The Ultimate Unofficial Carmen Sandiego Companion

Book Review

The Ultimate Unofficial Carmen Sandiego Companion
Corey Sandler and Tom Badgett

Bantam Books, 1991

$11.95 (United States)

$14.95 (Canada)

Please don't tell your kids about The Ultimate Unofficial Carmen Sandiego Companion book. This book is too well done for kids to see. The book gives adults a fighting chance in keeping up with the growing general knowledge of the younger generation.

After all, while you're slaving away at the office, the kids are playing Carmen Sandiego games in school and at home, learning all about the European navigator Abel Tasman (who explored much of the South Pacific in 1642), and a hundred other general knowledge facts that nobody ever taught us when WE were in school. This book gives you a chance to quickly get up to speed in playing the Carmen Sandiego games, so your second grader doesn't make you seem quite so ignorant about the world.

This 378 page paperback book covers all five of the Carmen Sandiego games, including the new "Where in America's Past is Carmen Sandiego?" The book is composed of lists, glossaries, charts, and suspect information, along with several maps and screen shots of the games.

The core material of the book is the alphabetically organized glossaries (databases) for each game. Each of these glossaries is organized alphabetically, except for the "Where in Time" game. The "Where in Time" database of topics is organized chronologically by year, rather than alphabetically by topic. A nice additional touch is that the "Where in Europe" chapter has an informative section giving brief descriptions of each European country.

What makes this book so effective is that the authors purposely avoided creating a "cheat book," where you could quickly look up any fact you needed to know. Rather, they've assembled a collection of facts and clues that assist rather than reveal the solution to any particular Carmen Sandiego case.

As with any good reference book, many of the entries cross-reference to one another. For instance, the entry for Paul Bunyan in "Where in the U.S.A." reads as follows:

Bunyan, Paul. A legendary American lumberjack of gigantic size who ruled the northland with his buddy, Babe the Blue Ox. Brainerd, in the state where the Mississippi is born, claims him as a native son.

So, if you're playing "Where in the U.S.A." and you see a reference to Paul Bunyan, this particular entry will not give you the city or state that you need to travel to. But if you look up the entry for Mississippi, you'll find that the "Mississippi rises in northern Minnesota near Lake Itaska." Given that Paul Bunyan, then, is associated with Minnesota, it's not all that difficult to figure out that you need to fly your plane to Minneapolis/St. Paul to track down Carmen and her gang.

Many of the other entries in "Where in the U.S.A." refer obliquely to the nickname of the state, or to some other famous person or landmark associated with the state. Here, for example, is a string of cross-references about places in the Land of Lincoln:

Wrigley Field - The home of the Cubs baseball team, inland from Lake Shore Drive.

Lake Shore Drive - The beaches here are not far from The Loop.

The Loop - A turn in the tracks of the elevated train marks the heart of downtown in the city served by O'Hare International Airport.

O'Hare International Airport - One of the word's busiest airports, it is one of two serving the home of the Loop.

It's obvious this book was very carefully thought out.

From a teacher's point of view, the information is packaged just in the right way to pique a person's interest. I'd recommend that any school that uses Carmen Sandiego games in their computer lab purchase at least two copies of this book: one reference copy for the computer lab, and one reference copy for the school library.

A book so chock full of information could make for dry reading, were it not for the cute little humorous remarks the authors tucked in. For instance, in the "Where in Europe" chapter, the authors have this to say about Black Forest Cake: "A chocolate cake from Germany with cherries and whipped cream; send samples to authors for personal evaluation." Other places in the book have similar humorous asides that enliven and entertain.

One of the reasons I bought this book was to gain a sense of the Carmen Sandiego games that I haven't yet played. Browsing thru the chapter on "Where in Time..." I came to the conclusion that this particular game is far too difficult for most elementary school children. "Where in Time" would be a real challenge to most high school students, it would seem.

Some of the information in this game seems to be quite obscure and unrelated to anything I ever learned in history class. For instance, these two obscure entries are part of the "Where in Time" game: 1) In the year 568, "Under the leadership of Alboin, the Lombards invaded northern Italy from their base along the lower Elbe." 2) In 711, "Tarik the One-Eyed, also known as Tariq, was a Berber leader who led the Muslim conquest of Spain." Even when combined with the fun Carmen Sandiego game format, these two arcane pieces of information remain monumentally boring.

So I was glad to be able to find out more about "Where in Time" without having to actually go out and buy the program. On the other hand, I was quite impressed with the entries in the "Where in America's Past" game, and will certainly purchase a copy just as soon as Broderbund releases their Apple II version.

Phil Shapiro

[This book review may be freely distributed electronically and may be reprinted in any user group or nonprofit educational publication. For commercial distribution, permission required.]

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