November 16, 2017


Scholastic Book of World Records 2018. By Cynthia O’Brien, Abigail Mitchell, Michael Bright, and Donald Sommerville. Scholastic. $12.99.

Scholastic Year in Sports 2018. Scholastic. $9.99.

     Here, from the back cover, is the self-description of the latest annual Scholastic world-records book: “Another Year of Amazing World Records and All the Latest and Greatest Pop Culture Crazes!” And that pretty much says it all: in an information age within which “best” and “greatest” change daily, hourly, even by the minute, it is very hard indeed to come up with “amazing world records” that have any lasting value and will appeal to the young readers at whom this book is targeted. But pop-culture crazes? Ah, there is an infinite well of silliness,  meaninglessness and stupidity on which an enterprising book-creation group (in this case, Toucan Books Limited) can draw at will; and even better, because the so-called “records” associated with unimportant pop-culture occurrences are so evanescent, the book can be updated year after year. After all, “world’s sleepiest animal: koala” is a record that is highly unlikely to change, but “highest-paid TV actress” and “top radio song” are 100% certain to change over time. Hopefully in time for the next edition of the book – which means by May 2018 (this “2018” edition actually covers only material through May 2017).

     Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of this. In fact, it is rather amusing to have a book that, on one page, describes the “largest sculpture cut from a single piece of stone: Sphinx,” which has withstood the depredations of time for some 4,500 years, while the facing page describes the “record-breaking LEGO structure: LEGOLAND Günzberg,” a tower built between June 24 and June 30, 2016. Maybe some people care about the “celebrity with the most Instagram followers: Selena Gomez,” but whether or not they do, it is pretty sure that this particular record will not stand very long, as other  flavor-of-the-moment celebrities pop up to eclipse it. Similarly, the “top-grossing mobile game app: Clash of Clans,” while it may retain its position for a time, is scarcely likely to do so – or even to be remembered – for very long. So Scholastic Book of World Records 2018 has built-in expiration dates for many of the items it describes, and that is just fine for a work that appears year after year.

     As always, the book is very heavily visual: every page is packed with visual elements, and in some cases the pages are nothing but visuals, with a small amount of information printed over full-page photos. For a visually oriented time, this makes perfect sense, even when the specific items included in the book are scarcely new or surprising, as in  the “Amazing Animals” section. Here appear the “world’s heaviest land mammal: African elephant,” “world’s largest primate: gorilla,” and “world’s fastest land animal: cheetah,” none of which is likely to be supplanted in its record anytime soon. Because these are “evergreen” records, the way they are presented becomes especially important, and it is in this design element that Scholastic Book of World Records 2018 shines. The page about the cheetah, for example, has five analog speedometers along the bottom, displaying the speed of the five fastest land animals in descending order (cheetah, African ostrich, pronghorn, springbok and lion). The two pages on the “world’s tallest living animal: giraffe” not only feature a gorgeous photo of a herd of the animals but also include large-type boxes giving information such as the length of a giraffe’s tongue (up to 21 inches) and the height of a calf at birth (six feet). And “America’s most popular dog breed: Labrador” features a list of the top 10 breeds in the U.S. – a list that may very well  change by the next edition of this book, although the Labrador’s place atop it may not, since it has now held the top spot for 26 years in a row.

     The book’s nine sections offer a mixture of items that will almost surely be altered in the near future and ones that almost certainly will not change. “Music Makers,” “Screen and Stage,” “On the Move,” “High Tech” and “Sports Stars” have far more soon-to-be-eclipsed records than “Super Structures,” “Amazing Animals,” “Incredible Earth,” and “State Stats” – although the last of these is actually easy to change each year by simply selecting a different record for each state. That is, Scholastic Book of World Records 2018 says Alaska is the “state with the most pilots per capita,” Tennessee is the “state that makes all the MoonPies,” and Wisconsin is the “state with the prize milk cow,” but each state has other distinctions that would lend themselves to alterations in this chapter in the future. Really, the book is not about multiple records as of 2018, but about multiple records up to May 2017 that it can be fun to read about as 2018 approaches. It can even be enjoyable, in the new year, to find out about various record-breaking matters and make note of them on the appropriate pages of this book – just to see whether they end up being the events and people mentioned in the work’s version for 2019.

     Much the same thinking applies to Scholastic Year in Sports 2018, but this is a book that includes nothing at all that is expected to remain the same in a year. Instead, it gives scores, records and statistics from 2017 – through August, actually – with the full knowledge that there will be another set of scores, records and statistics available for the 2019 version of the book. As with Scholastic Book of World Records 2018, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with this, provided that buyers know what they are getting and do not expect anything else. Scholastic Year in Sports 2018 is of course solely for sports fans, but more than that, it is for fans of multiple sports, not ones who, for example, fixate on college basketball or NASCAR. Both those fields do get coverage here, but so do the National Football League, college football, major league baseball, NBA/WNBA, National Hockey League, soccer, golf, tennis and a few miscellaneous categories labeled “Other Motor Sports” (drag racing, motorcycle racing and others), “Action Sports” (Summer X Games, Winter X Games), and simply “Other Sports” (figure skating, lacrosse, America’s cup and more). Since no single sport in the entire book gets even as many as 20 pages – and most of the space is taken up with photos rather than information – Scholastic Year in Sports 2018 is not for anyone looking for in-depth coverage of anything. It is a kind of once-over-lightly about the world of sports, a chance to see some attractive pictures, relive a few game highlights and read about some “Sudden Stars,” who are “the young superstars you will be watching for years to come” and who are drawn from football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey and so forth. Again, the book clearly targets the sports junkie – but a particular type of sports junkie, one who is interested in brief highlights of the year (up to August) in a wide variety of games and activities. Young hyper-fans of sports in general will have a good time with the book; those who care about only one, two or even three sports will probably bypass Scholastic Year in Sports 2018 and look instead for more-intense coverage of the areas to which they are devoted.

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