Building Your Own Reference Library
Evaluating A Reference Book
Your child must be able to read a book if it's going to be useful. Does it seem too hard or too easy? Try not to be put off by the number of words on a page. Reference books should be chock-full of information. Instead, make sure the type is big enough to read easily. The text should be balanced by clear illustrations, diagrams, charts, and photographs. Good illustrations can show what people wear, what kinds of houses they live in, and what a habitat looks like. They can also help explain difficult concepts like atoms and wave motion.
Is the book current?
Check the copyright date, which tells you when the book was published. If you're looking for a reference book about science, you should try to find one that was written within the past three years — because discoveries and advances are so frequently being made in areas like astronomy, biology, medicine, and telecommunications.
Also look for dates of revised editions. These dates should be on the same page as the copyright. It is important to get the most current edition of a book, even if it's about history, because historians are always finding new information. Also, newly revised editions of books tend to reflect changes in how topics are being taught.
Is the book accurate?
All good reference books are either written by experts or, more commonly, checked by experts. Their names and affiliations are listed in the Acknowledgments. Sometimes the reference will include an introduction written by an expert. When an expert lends his or her name to a book, you can feel confident that the information has been checked for accuracy.
Is the book comprehensive?
Look at the Contents page. Do the chapter titles make it clear what topics the book covers? Does the book follow a pattern that makes sense to you? Does it move chronologically? Does it start with a simple part of the subject and then build toward the more complex parts?
Make sure there is an index. Without exception, every good reference book should have one. The index allows children — and parents — to find information quickly.
Is there a bibliography?
Authors will often provide a list of other books and magazines to read, and even movies to watch.