Arg. Concept books. They’re dangerous dealings. A concept book is meant to have a single purpose: to inform. If they amuse, that’s nice, but it’s not why they were invented. And because you need a good author to make a basic concept easy and understandable to kids, a lot of topics go unanswered on library and bookstore shelves. Until this moment in time, if someone had walked up to my reference desk and asked, "Do you have a good easy concept book about time zones," they would have gotten a front row seat to the show that is my gaping fish-like mouth. As it happens, even adults don’t have many books to choose from when it comes to discussing that particular topic. It’s just a concept that doesn’t get a whole lot of play, even though parents traveling with children, or who have family far away, need a way of explaining to their kids why time isn’t the same time all around the world. Cynthia Jaynes Omololu’s When It’s Six o’Clock in San Francisco fills a need, and does a jolly good job of it too.
It is six o’clock in San Francisco and Jared has just woken up to drink his cocoa for the day. As he does this, it’s nine o’clock in Montreal, and Genevieve and her father are taking a slippery sliding way to school that neither of them expected. As they do that, it’s eleven o’clock in Santiago, and so on. With each new time zone the reader is introduced to new characters and new storylines. Whether they’re scoring goals in London, asking for a last drink of water in Sydney or tearing up over spicy food in Lahore, everyone around the world is doing something different. Backmatter shows the different zones on a map with information on how they work.
Omololu opts for a story to help kids understand time zones. This works as a series of short tales, but has resulted in some cataloging confusions. For example, because the Library of Congress designated this a work of fiction, we shelve this story in our picture book section. Personally, I think it would do just fine in the non-fiction section as well. After all, that’s where we put our The Magic School Bus concept books, and it doesn’t seem to confuse anyone all that much. I’d love to slot this in the 808.838762 section sometime. That’s the librarian in me.
Now at the end of this book is a two-page factual section that shows a map of the world, the time zones, and text explaining how seasons, distance, and the tilt and spin of the Earth affect these zones. It’s a little wordy, so it’s probably best to read it to those older kids studying up on the same subject. Little kids, on the other hand, will benefit from seeing on the map where each city is, and figuring out its time from that. Expect to do a lot of backing and forthing between the stories and the map as a result. It got me to thinking that a small map of the world with each new city and time zone at the bottom of the pages wouldn’t have been out of place. If the map appeared with a colored bar for each zone, kids would better be able to understand that when it’s one time here, it’s another time there. The clocks at the bottom of the page do cover this to some extent, but I feel that a continuous map would have been cool too.
Randy DuBurke makes for an interesting complement to Omololu’s text. Because this is a book written for a younger crowd, the publisher could have paired this story with a more cartoonish artist. DuBurke, in contrast, has opted for a realistic bent. Storylines are broken up into panels, with a text up above. Sometimes the storylines demand a two-page spread to end the story. Sometimes all you get are three or four panels. It’s almost like a graphic novel in this way, but I feel like speech bubbles would be completely wrong for a layout like this. Best to just look as them like scenes from short films.
I did find myself wondering if kids would find the vast array of characters that exist without connection disjointed. You leap from one narrative to another pretty fast here. I was glad to see that the storyline of Jared in San Francisco works out. That gives the book a kind of conclusion that it needed. The book might lend itself to a fun writing assignment, actually. You could tell your kids to choose one of the stories in this book and write a conclusion for it. Will Nkosi in Cape Town buy the washing powder his mother wants like she told him to, or will he blow it all on CDs? Will Keilana in Honolulu convince her mother to let her stay up, or will she lose this battle and be forced back to bed? There are a lot of options here. A lot of options.
Even grown-ups shouldn’t feel smug when it comes to understanding time zones. For example, what happens when some of the world experiences daylight savings? What then? As I mentioned before, books on the subject are few and far between (though, interestingly, there’s another one by David Adler slated to come out in 2010). You’re lucky if you can find something coherent on the subject, let alone engaging. Omololu has covered her bases all the way through the story, saying exactly what date it takes place (February 19th and 20th) and how the aforementioned daylight savings affects various zones. Added to DuBurke’s images, it’s a creative take on a difficult-to-teach concept. One of those books you’ll add to your collection out of necessity, as well as for the fun of it.
On shelves now.
Source: Hardcover edition received via author.
- Cynthia Jaynes Omololu at Cynsations,
- Download a teacher’s guide here.
- Check out this FAQ about Ms. Omololu and her books.
- Look at this title at Google Books.
Videos: You can see the book trailer for this title here if you like.