Big, Complex Topics -- Small, Readable Books

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Canadian publisher Groundwood Books has created The Groundwork Guides, a new series of "edgy, opinionated guides" for teen readers about important political and social issues.

The first four titles in the series -- Being Muslim by Haroon Siddiqui, Genocide by Jane Springer, Climate Change by Shelley Tanaka, and Empire by James Laxer -- seem deceptively brief considering the complexities of the issues. With one exception, they are 144 pages, and all measure under 8" x 5" in hardcover. However, the books are written by respected experts in their fields -- including professors, journalists, and book editors -- who synthesize the topics and provide opinionated overviews.

According to Jane Springer, the series editor and author of Genocide, the recommended age level for all the books is 14 and above, except for the spring 2007 title Pornography by Debbie Nathan, which will have a recommended minimum age of 18.

"We have 10 books in progress," Springer told BTW. "They are all edgy, opinionated guides on important social issues. They are very good primers for undergraduates, for use in classes, and for adults who want accessible introductions to timely topics. Each book offers a lot of information on difficult subjects in a small size, with illustrations and charts. Our idea is to give people the information they need to think about these issues and form their own opinions. For bookstores," she added, "they look interesting on counters as a well-priced, small format purchase."

Springer emphasized that Groundwork Guides aim to present a global perspective, addressing political and social issues by providing examples and viewpoints from around the world, not just from North America and Europe. "We brainstorm about possible topics and are currently working on ones about the news, the police, homes and the homeless, video games, Africa and the west, and cities," she explained. "We have many others planned."

Springer is quite clear that these books may not be acceptable in every classroom or home. "People are more open-minded in Canada -- no topics are really taboo," she said, adding that the most controversial title of the first four titles has probably been Empire.

Written by James Laxer, a professor of political science and author of 16 previous books, Empire features a highly critical discussion of the present-day policies of the U.S. and not just the bygone empires of the Romans, Aztecs, or British.

Upcoming titles promise no dearth of controversy: Sex for Guys by Manne Forssberg, to be published in the fall of 2007, deals with young men's sexuality in a candid, chatty style with no self-consciousness. "Many more books are available for young women about their bodies and sex, but young men tend to be more embarrassed to discuss things," Springer explained.

Other upcoming titles, planned for release in spring of 2008, are Slavery Today by Kevin Bales and Becky Cornell and Oil by James Laxer.

Fred Horler, institutional marketing manager for Groundwood Books, told BTW, "We will definitely be releasing each one in paperback in the U.S. Probably 12 months after their hardcover release -- though that is still to be confirmed."

The Groundwork Guides are distributed in the U.S. by Publishers Group West. --Nomi Schwartz