Review of “The 50 States” by Gabrielle Balkan

50 States Cover

Since I love both infographics and state trivia, it’s as if this book were made just for me, for it combines both of those features into one big book. It begins:

“Welcome explorers, investigators, and lovers of knowledge….”

Yes, yes, that is I! (Well, if you add the word “armchair” before the word “explorers”….)

For each state, there is a “Welcome Box” providing an introduction to the state, a map full of interesting factoids as well as prominent geological features, and side bars about key facts, state icons, inspiring people, moments to remember, and a spotlight on one particular region in the state.

I have several favorite states, but my most favorite is actually not a state at all, but a federal district; that is, Washington, D.C. Thankfully, it is included at the back of the book, although I wish the author had shown D.C.’s license plate, which memorably declares: “Taxation Without Representation.” (The author does, however, mention that D.C. is a zone of taxation without representation.]


But what it does include is fun and interesting, such as a nod to “Ben’s Chili Bowl,” a long-time favorite area restaurant; a blurb on the “Racing Presidents” – mascots of the Washington Nationals baseball team; the length of the Woodley Park metro escalator (the longest escalator in D.C., and one I occasionally walked up, in my salad days); and even a mention of the bookstore “Busboys and Poets.” In addition, it also provides the necessary sampling of monuments, museums, and memorials, all packed in one two-page spread.

50 States_Washington DC

Right next door to D.C. is the state of Maryland, where I grew up. How did I not know about “Smith Island Cake”? Obviously, I didn’t have this book when I grew up.


But I would think there would also be a lengthier description of crab feasts – she only mentions that you can find delicious blue crabs in quiet fishing villages, but in fact, approximately 50 percent of the country’s blue crab harvest comes from Maryland waters, and crab feasts are a Maryland staple! I would also have loved to have seen a reference to the McCormick Spice Factory, which graced Baltimore with the smell of cinnamon for 125 years. But as anyone knows, you can put ten people from a state in a room, and come up with ten totally different lists of the most iconic features of the state. It doesn’t really matter; I love the parts that are included, and I love learning new things about all of the states, especially the others where I have lived (The Badger State, The Grand Canyon State, The Keystone State, and now The Prairie State.) You will learn all these nicknames from the book, and there are bonus infographics at the end showing all the presidents and all the state flags (of which Maryland’s is the most spectacular, I’m sure you will agree!).

50 States_Maryland

The illustrations by Sol Linero are perfect for the book.

Evaluation: I love this book; it’s very fun, and would make a great gift.

Published by Wide Eyed Editions, an imprint of The Quarto Group, 2015


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9 Responses to Review of “The 50 States” by Gabrielle Balkan

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    That does look like a fun book! I’m kind of afraid of what it said about South Carolina. I think our state motto should be “The Troublemaker State.”

    • Gabe says:

      There’s lot to love about South Carolina! for one thing, one of my favorite authors, Jacqueline Woodson, spent some of her childhood there.
      See for yourself, here’s the SC spread….

      In fact, I have such fondness for the state that I chose Charleston, SC as the first city to kick off our follow-up book on 50 U.S. cities. you can get a sneak peek at (the totally un-copyedited and un-fact-checked) first look at art here:

      Be well, Bermuda Onion!

  2. This does look like fun. Appropriate for kids? I love charts and maps like this.

  3. Judy Hofheimer says:

    Sophie & I had Smith Island Cake on Friday night! She loves it too.

  4. This looks like a wonderful book! And also, I am perennially furious that DC doesn’t have the correct amount of representation. Totally unfair!

  5. Gayle says:

    Aw – love your including DC in here! It’s the best city ever. Thanks for the nice words!!

  6. Gabe says:

    Good tip on the McCormick Spice Factory! I’ll be sure to include it in our follow up book on 50 U.S. Cities, out in 2017! Cheers! Gabe

  7. stacybuckeye says:

    This looks like so much fun! I have so many books on the states already but I can never seem to get enough. DC is my favorite ‘state’ too 🙂

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