Allison's Book Bag

The Philippines by Derek Zobel

Posted on: June 13, 2014

“Developed by literacy experts for students in grades three to seven, this book introduces young people to the geography and culture of the Philippines.” This is how the publishers of the Exploring Countries series describes The Philippines by Derek Zobel. The series has also been rated based on five levels of fluency. The Philippines is a 5, meaning it is intended to encourage young people to move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” by providing more text and less familiar topics. Both are apt descriptions of Zobel’s book, which informed me while also leaving me asking questions.

Let’s start with the statement that Zobel’s book introduces readers to the Philippines. There are thirteen topics covered. Some of these include where the Philippines is located and its geographical features, who lives in the Philippines and where Filipinos work and play, along with a description of some major holidays and one hero. In other words, Zobel provides coverage of most basic topics. He also provides fun fact throughout and fast facts at the end, which expand on his coverage. Zobel’s book can indeed serve as a starting point for anyone who is interested in knowing more about this country in Southeast Asia.

Given though that Zobel’s book is aimed not just at elementary school students but also middle school, I wonder why more wasn’t said about the history of the Philippines. Zobel notes that ancestors came from mainland Asia and the islands of Indonesia. He also refers to revolutionary Jose Rizal, who died after fighting the Spanish for the country’s independence. However, there are pages of history to be found even just at Wikipedia, which Zobel has overlooked. I also wonder why more wasn’t said about the lives of those who live in the country. The majority (65%) might live in the city, but there are also a minority (35%) who live in the country, and all that’s said about them is how they travel to the city. Last, I wonder why more wasn’t said about the environmental issues being faced today by Filipinos. Zobel spends four pages describing the land and two overviewing the wildlife, but doesn’t once mention that deforestation is changing the landscape and threatening habitats.

Now let’s turn to the statement that Zobel’s book is intended to encouraged young people to read to learn. Zobel provides more text, with sentences being twice as long and more complex than those found in nonfiction aimed at primary students. There are also a greater variety of text features. For example, there were statistical charts. One of my favorite extras was a “Speak Filipino” chart, which gave the English word, the equivalent Filipino word, and then told how to pronounce the latter. Yet with its colored pages and headers, Zobel’s book is just as visually appealing as nonfiction intended for primary students.

Again though, I have to pick fault with not providing enough. The “TO LEARN MORE” section included only three books, in contrast to the seven listed in another book which I recently reviewed but that was aimed at a younger audience. As for websites, there weren’t any provided. Instead Zobel tells readers to visit Fact Surfer, type in Philippines, and then click Surf to find websites. While this might reduce the likelihood of providing readers with defunct websites, part of the value of providing bibliographic references is also to reassure readers that authors have done their research. Based on the skimpiness of this section, I don’t feel terribly confident that Zobel has. Incidentally, Fact Surfer brought up only two references. In other words, Zobel might have depended on a mere five sources to write The Philippines.

Zobel’s book leaves me with mixed feelings. Although aimed at readers as young as eight, the text density is most suited for older students. Yet by middle school, students should be ready to hear about history and even government. Moreover, while I enjoyed learning about the Philippines, I also found myself seeking out other sources.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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