Kids’ Beginner’s World Atlas

These Nat Geo guides are pretty sweet.

After checking out several excellent books from the series, I have a new habit: reserving new National Geographic books from the library every week. I can’t help it; it’s a compulsion. Each and every book proves to be just as impressive if not even more so than the previous book, and even if we don’t read them my six-year-old and I end up gazing at the photos and reading the captions for a very long time.

The National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas is no different from these other books. It has gorgeous full-color pictures, plenty of animals and maps for kids to check out, and dozens of fact boxes about land regions, plants, water, climate, and more. Some of the photos are simply breathtaking!

The complaint I have, however, is about the display of people. For example, in the North America photo, we have a girl from the Crow Tribe in Montana dressed up in some braids, a special dress, and a bit of paint on her face. I’m not an expert, but the native people I’ve met across the country tend to wear jeans and t-shirts like everyone else. Isn’t this sort of a trope? And in no way does this young girl represent the entirety of North America—which is an extremely unfortunate fact, considering how native people were wiped out by the ancestors of the majority of the people who do live here, but it is true nonetheless.

Canada is represented by an Inuit boy and a hockey player; in Australia, an aborigine boy. It seems like the makers of the book went out of their way to get as many tribal photos as they could, giving the world a false feeling of color. I get that these representations are often the most interesting—and indeed, I want to learn more about all of these different people and so does my kiddo—but I just think it would have been more accurate to depict countries with either a face that might be commonly seen (AKA in jeans or whatever!) or a variety of people whom you might see representing many different cultures when applicable.

Otherwise, this is really an excellent first atlas, especially since it helps explain how to use an atlas in the first place—something that many of us never even learned in our lives. I remember pouring over the back contents of flags and countries in my social studies book, yearning to learn more about the world as we learned the same old (and it turns out, false) history of Christopher Columbus every year. Now that I’m no longer in school, I can—and so can my daughter.

Character Casting: Mags

Who should play this elderly tribute and mentor?

Most of the characters in The Hunger Games films are young or middle-aged, and the reason why is obvious: it’s hard to stay alive for very long in this dystopian society. People who are old usually belong in the Capitol; in any other district, old age comes from constant struggle or the luck of having some sort of income, such as the bakery that Peeta’s family runs. So we don’t get to meet very many older citizens.

My favorite older citizens in Panem, however, is Mags—the district four victor and mentor we meet in book two, Catching Fire. Mags is selfless, kind, and even a bit funny; Katniss really admires her and so do many fans. So who should the honor of playing this elderly spitfire?

My Hunger Games, a fansite of the series, has announced their picks and poll for Mags, and my favorite is among them—Dame Maggie Smith. Smith is one of my absolute favorite actresses, hands-down, and she would be brilliant in this role. In fact, it was Smith whom I pictured while reading the book. She’s fierce and funny without being trite, and her face is one of the most expressive in the entire acting industry. She would definitely do the character most justice.

That said, I was intrigued by a few other selections at the website. I really don’t think Meryl Streep or Betty White would be good for this role; I love them both dearly but I don’t think they have the look for Mags. Most of the others that fans seem to like don’t really fit the character, either. But I could see Vanessa Redgrave, Lois Smith, or Lindsay Duncan as Mags; they all seem to have the range to play her as well as the look. Mags, you must understand, has trouble speaking and babbles a bit; she is, after all, at least eighty years old. She’s seen a lot of Hunger Games in her lifetime and her portrayal should definitely reflect this.

Come to think of it, Jeannette Miller and Sissy Spacek might just fit the role of Mags well, too. I happen to love Spacek and could definitely see her doing some of the things Mags does so gently, with such care and humor.

Still, Smith is my ultimate favorite for this role, and she is whom I would cast if the decision was mine to make. Who would you choose as Mags and why?