So, it came as something like relief to receive Explore the World by Anton Hallmann in the bookpost this week. This non-fiction title for primary school children neatly marries geography and history, and allows a peek into each era and place – discoveries that shaped the world – piquing children’s interest in the particular, but giving them a broad scope of the general.
Starting with a colour-coded contents timeline spanning 120,000 years ago to present day, and then an introduction explaining what it is to ‘discover,’ the book neatly begins in Africa with the first traces of human activity. Throughout the book, the reader is guided by two friends, Emma and Louis – first glimpsed in the end papers drawing maps, and then the title pages, inventing and discovering. These two children, illustrated on each page, give vocal contributions in speech bubbles to the general text.
The book begins with human ‘wandering’ and the first discoveries and adventures, looking at tools, voyages and resources, and moves into influential people and the spread of religions. It’s a huge subject, and the text is fairly advanced for primary age (it is translated from the German), but its meatiness and depth is rewarding, explaining how we now know certain information, and why the world opened up the way it did.
Taking in the Vikings, the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the search for Australia, Darwin and all the way to the Space Race, the book covers a vast amount of exploration and discovery. Happily, there are references to female discoverers too, such as the archaeologist Jane Dieulafoy, and the explorer Anne Blunt, as well as discoverers who aren’t always covered, including Matthew Henson and Inuit explorer, Nukapinguaq. From land to sea and then space, the book certainly tries to cover the extent to which humans will go to find new things. And children reading the book will find a wealth of new exciting information and discovery, leading them, hopefully to make further digs for information in their environments and libraries.
Colour is used well in the book. Each page representative of the environment being explored, with the ocean pages tinted blue and with portholes displaying different information. Each explorer is illustrated in the outfit of their time, and the two children guides, Emma and Louis, interact within the illustrations on the page – climbing out of the Egyptian tombs, clinging to branches when looking at natural world discoveries, and even shown listening to the sounds of instruments down under.
This intimate and accessible way of delving into each page adds an extra element of welcome and warmth to the book, and juxtaposes with the density of information. A fascinating look at how, and importantly, why, humans explore and discover, with good touches and caveats about treatment of indigenous people, oppression and colonisation, those who aren’t credited with discovery or who have been forgotten, the different roles of women in history, and the importance of respecting the natural world and its people. In this way, it is a book best read and explored with an adult, extrapolating what we’ve learnt and what we’ve destroyed, where humans have adventured, and where humans were misguided.
But it is not negative. This is a book about the wonder of the world. There are new things to discover, according to the final pages, and Elon Musk would agree. The book ends on an optimistic note, with adventures waiting to be had. For those wanting to start their own, they could begin with this book and see where it leads them.
With thanks to Little Gestalten for the review copy. You can buy your own here.