By: Francesca Davis Dipiazza
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: August 2010
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Reviewed: January 16, 2011
One of the most common things that comes to mind when one thinks about the Netherlands, aside from “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates,” are windmills and tulips. One unusual fact that you may not know is that tulips “originally came from the Middle East.” It’s no great surprise that “More than half the world’s exported flowers come from the Netherlands” and that most of them are tulips. The Kingdom of the Netherlands (sometimes called Holland) is approximately “half the size of the state of Maine” and is the “most densely populated nation in Europe” with a population of 16.5 million people. The kingdom also includes the Caribbean islands of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. Because of its location on the northwestern coast of Europe it has been a “major player in world trade.” If you glance at the map in this book you can see its capital city, Amsterdam, its numerous geographical attributes, and you’ll easily understand how it became a “leading seafaring power” when you examine its lengthy natural border with the North Sea.
When you delve into the land and topography sections in this book you may be surprised to learn that the “word ‘Netherlands’ means lowlands.” In fact you’ll discover that twenty-one percent of the land is below sea level and that “Areas of dry land reclaimed from the sea are called polders.” You’ll learn about the lakes, major rivers, the “generally mild and wet” climate, the country’s natural resources, its environmental concerns, and its flora and fauna. In addition to these solid facts, the young reader will get a feel for its people and their tenets. One of the pervasive beliefs of the Dutch is that “people should control their own lives and that government should serve the people.” The country as a whole has adopted a liberal outlook and the young reader will be surprised to find that it is legal to smoke marijuana in certain coffee shops, that prostitution is legal, as are same-sex marriages, and euthanasia.
Most of the people are what you would call city dwellers with seventy percent of the population living in its cities. You’ll get a whirlwind tour of Amsterdam and other large metropolitan cities such as Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht. The reader will get a very thorough grounding of the Netherlands’ history and government beginning with a glimpse at those who lived on the land in prehistoric times. The Romans, the Franks, Charlemagne, the Germans, the Burgundians, the Habsburgs, the Spaniards, and others all had a hand in shaping the country which is now a “constitutional monarchy.” Did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Louis, was once king of the country? He was. You’ll learn about how the Dutch “value social equality,” statistical information on health issues, the ethnic makeup of its citizenry, their stance toward religious freedom, you’ll learn about education, language, their religions, their cultural life, literature, film, music, and you’ll learn many other interesting facets of life in this amazing country!
This is one title in the “Visual Geography” series, a series that is well worth looking into. Once the publisher's website is updated with the newer titles in the series there will be additional links to the land, the people, cultural life, teacher resources, and links to things such as video clips. What I liked about this book is that the condensation of material is very tight, but far from sloppy. It is very well researched and any section could easily be a stepping stone to a school report or a casual reading experience in any one area. There are numerous full color photographs, maps, art reproductions, and informative sidebars scattered throughout the book. One interesting sidebar discusses the “Dutch Tall Person’s Club.” You’ll find out the reason why Dutch people may, on average, be taller than the rest of us. In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, a timeline, some fast facts, and brief sections on their currency, flag, and the national anthem. There are mini-biographies of famous people, a section of sights to see, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore.