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Encyclopedias

Multimedia encyclopedias are useful and easy to use but they haven't completely replaced their paper based competitors. A good single volume encyclopedia can provide quick answers to questions, pictures to copy and trace and a starting point for more in-depth research. In addition, an encyclopedia in book form is always available even when someone else is using the computer so it can ease the demand on the keyboard.
          First Encyclopedias    
          Animated Encyclopedias    
          Encyclopedias for Older Children     

First Encyclopedias
(with thanks to Jenny and Misty)
Several publishers produce simple encyclopedias with information and illustrations designed to appeal to young children. They aim to introduce the idea of reference books and interest their readers in the world about them.

Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Dorling Kindersley First Encyclopedia is particularly suited to the younger end of the age group as it starts by looking at familiar objects and experiences, moving on gradually to the wider world. This approach is good for the less confident child but means that the book will soon be outgrown, especially as its slim size limits the amount of information provided.  On the other hand, its hard cover means it is robust enough for a large family or classroom where it can be enjoyed by more than one child. As you would expect from Dorling Kindersley, the colour drawings and photographs are of a high standard and include plenty of children to attract young readers attention. The text is clear with simple, straight forward sentences to help beginner readers. 
large format, hardback, 78 pages, ages 4-7
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Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Oxford First Encyclopedia also divides its information into sections rather than arranging it alphabetically. This works well as similar topics are grouped together rather than spread through the book which minimises the need for cross-referencing. With almost twice the number of pages as the Dorling Kindersley version, it has the space to explore topics at greater depth and includes suggestions for simple activities and investigations. The layout is attractive with clear, bright illustrations and easy to read text written in a direct, straightforward style which addresses the reader as 'you' and builds new concepts from children's own experiences. A good buy as a first encyclopedia which should remain useful for several years.
large format, paperback, 144 pages, ages 5-9
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Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Kingfisher First Encyclopedia is the closest to a traditional reference book of the three titles considered here. The information is arranged alphabetically and the text is slightly less direct, only occasionally referring to the reader as 'you'. As with the others, the artwork is beautiful and there is less text per page than the Oxford version which may make it more appealing to weaker readers. This is the best choice if you want to introduce children to alphabetical layout before they move on to standard children's encyclopedias. 
large format, hardback, 160 pages, ages 5-8
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Animated Encyclopedias
Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Usborne Animated Encyclopedia
I've put this encyclopedia in its own category as it is so different from the others on the market and bridges the two age ranges. All the information is provided in strip cartoon format with colourful cartoon style illustrations. This avoids long, daunting passages of text and makes the pages look as child friendly as a comic but means there are no photographs to copy for project work. There is also an accompanying CD ROM which contains the whole book in electronic form with buttons to click to animate many of the pictures and the option of hearing the text read aloud. Together the book and CD cover a good range of topics in a way which is completely accessible to weak readers and may tempt those who are put off by more orthodox encyclopedias. 
large format, hardback, 136 pages, ages 6 to 10+
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Encyclopedias for Older Children    
There are three main contenders in this category, all of which are excellent. These reviews are designed to highlight the differences between them to help you choose the best one for your children.

Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Dorling Kindersley Illustrated Encyclopedia
This covers a wide range of topics including some British history although it's surprising to see no separate entry for the Internet. Each topic occupies at least one complete page with the text divided into a main section which gives a good outline of the subject plus sub-sections in smaller type which provide extra information and extend more able children. The excellent illustrations are a balanced mix of photos and drawings with some cut-away pictures and large maps. The index is reasonably easy to use and there is also a useful factfinder section which includes a timeline of world history and a map of the night sky. 
Hardback 644 pages ages 9+
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Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Kingfisher Children's Encyclopedia
This also has a wide range of topics plus a factfinder section but there is little coverage of purely British history. Each topic covers at least one whole page and the book is printed on slightly thicker paper than its two competitors which gives the book a feel some children will prefer. The text is easy to read and understand with bold sub-headings which divide it into easily manageable chunks. The book's strongest point is its illustrations which are a good mix of photographs and drawings with many excellent cut-away pictures. A  number of the pictures involve movement which increases their ability to catch children's interest.  This encyclopedia is a good choice for younger children and for reluctant readers who will be attracted to the illustrations, although you'll need to be prepared to help with the index as it is in much smaller type than the rest of the book. 
Hardback, 492 pages, interest age 7+, reading age 8+
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Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Oxford Children's Illustrated Encyclopedia
As this encyclopedia is the only one which sometimes puts two entries on the same page, it includes more topics than either of the others and also provides the best coverage of British history. However, the text dominates in this encyclopedia as the two or three illustrations per page are small, static and only occasionally add extra information. This rather formal layout is in marked contrast to its two competitors but it contains some very well written and researched information which often goes into sufficient depth to interest adults. The index has topic headings in bold to make it easier to use. A good choice for studious older children and unlikely to be outgrown.
Hardback, 672 pages, ages 11+
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