Book Review: A World of Wonders by J. Patrick Lewis

First published on 13th July, 2008 in The Star

world of wonders

I NEVER enjoyed geography lessons when I was in school. All those names! All those terms! They didn’t seem to have anything to do with my life. If only I’d had J. Patrick Lewis’s A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme to bewitch and encourage me!

What an excellent resource for those who wish to introduce children to geography. Hmm … how dubious that sounds! Would any child be interested in the ‘study of the earth and its features and of the distribution of life on the earth, including human life and the effects of human activity’ ( Put that way, probably not.

On the other hand, ‘So many places have fabulous names,/ Like Fried, North Dakota,/ The Court of St. James,/ Siberia, Nigeria, Elria, Peru,/ The White Nile, Black Sea,/ And Kalamazoo! The Great Wall of China, South Pole and Loch Ness,/ And 104 Fairview – that’s my address!’ is definitely intriguing.

‘Thousands of spaces are places to be –/ Discover the World of GE–OG–RA–PHY!’ writes J. Patrick Lewis, author of A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme. He continues, ‘Travel by boat or by car or by plane/ To visit East Africa, Singapore, Spain./ Go by yourself or invite a good friend,/ But traveling by poem is what I recommend.’ Those who globe-trotters and jetsetters may turn up their snouts at it, but arm–chair travel is not to be scoffed at – especially considering the price of fuel … and the ozone layer.

World2 Lewis writes humorously about brave (and nosy) explorers like Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan and Tenzing Norgay (no Cheng Ho though); tackles, gleefully, geographical phenomena like the aurora borealis; explores the significance of place names; provides solutions for those who confuse longitude and latitude, and stalactites and stalagmites.

His creative rhymes (‘equate her’ with ‘’frigerator’!) certainly help fix facts in one’s mind – this is a very helpful devise when mugging for exams. Memorising these poems also can help make you the life and soul of the party … or brand you an insufferable show-off. My favourites ‘Sri Lank used to be Ceylon./ Ancient Persia? Now Iran./ Zaire was Congo way back when,/ Now it’s Congo once again.’ (from New Names, Old Places)  and ‘The Arctic is water all covered with ice./ Antartica? Land (frozen paradise).’ (from The Arctic and Antartica: Which is Colder?)

I learnt some interesting facts from this book. Did you know, for example, that there’s standing room on the island of Bali for Earth’s population? Well, you do now!

A World of Wonders is illustrated by Alison Jay who uses oils overlaid by crackle varnish that gives her work an aged look. Jay has published many picture books using this technique. In this case, her pictures have the effect of an old map, perfect for a book about geography as it recalls an ancient atlas or globe. However, rather than the yellowed patina of age, Jay’s colours are fresh and vibrant, dominated by shades of blues and greens, with touches of rich earth tones.

This is a beautiful book – a valuable addition to libraries public and private, it will gladden the hearts, minds and eyes of young and old alike.

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