Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ancient Myths The Wooden Horse of Troy

I became familiar with John Malam through his work on the You Wouldn't Want to series. When I realized he'd become a part of a series on mythology, of course I had to explore it. The Wooden Horse of Troy (Ancient Greek Myths)is Malam's retelling of the tale Of Helen of Troy and the Trojan Horse.

If you have read some of Malam's You Wouldn't Want to books you will see the same approach to giving you all the relevant details of the myth, but still shaping it with some humor and fun to keep children engaged in reading the material. This is not a graphic history, but Peter Rutherford's illustrations do help carry the story as they are cartoonish, amusing, demonstrate the emotions of the characters in the myth, and help the reader to connect to the story.

One feature I rather liked in this series is Ask the Storyteller. Each of these provides the reader with a little more insight into background, future actions, motivation for characters actions, and in general helps the reader to understand pieces of the story that aren't directly a part of the myth.

While clearly a picture book, like the You Wouldn't Want to series this book would also be great with older readers who may not have a background in mythology and might not have a high interest. The information is all there, but the illustrations and the format are engaging.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Olympians vs. Titans an Interactive Mythological Adventure

Olympians vs. Titans: An Interactive Mythological Adventure is an entry in the You Choose Ancient Greek Myths series.

Interaction between reader and the material is one of the big reasons I keep selecting the different versions of these types of books to review. I believe strongly that humor and choice help students to connect to the material, thus generating a natural curiosity and interest in learning more about a topic.

Once through one version of the story a reader can go back and choose a different character or continue with the same character but make different choices to see how those choice effect outcome. How choices, decisions, and even the lack of decisions, the failure to choose effect outcomes is a very important life lesson for children and I think this is one series that taps into a unique way of demonstrating how choices change sometimes just an individual's life but other times the course of a much larger group of people.

With the mythology series the publishers have moved to giving students the means to explore how Greek mythology is effected by the choices individuals make and how those choice can result in a variety of different outcomes based on additional choices.

In Olympians vs. Titans readers can follow the path of Cronus, Zeus, or Prometheus. In following any of the paths the reader will get quite a bit of background information not only about the character chosen, but about the background of both the Titans and the Olympians. While a child could read and enjoy this book without having any previous experience with the myths surrounding the battles between Titan leaders and the Olympians, I suspect the book would be more meaningful with some background knowledge. This will help the child understand the choices being made and why the choices matter.

If you are expecting a book in which the Titans win providing a truly alternate mythology this isn't the one for you. In certain cases there are changes based on the paths taken. This is one of the reasons it is best to have some background with the original myths to be able to notice the changes. However I didn't find a scenario in which the Titans win leaving the Olympians in Tartarus. The big picture mythology stays unaltered regardless of the path you take. The choice result in smaller alterations to the story lines.

I was pleased with this entry into the You Choose series. I wasn't sure how well the format would work with mythology. In most of the books I've reviewed we are dealing with minor, unknown characters who can make different choices without alternating the ultimate historical time line. If a fictional character for instance chooses not to do something, the event will still occur in history, the choices will play out in the fictional life of the character created for the You Choose story. However, with mythology, the characters being written about have made specific choices that are written into the mythology that create a specific story line. Altering that story line and staying true to the myth is challenging. I thought the author handled it well.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

How to Live Like a Medival Knight

Follow the adventures of Gilbert Marshall in A Medieval Knight (How to Live Like.)as he takes you on a journey with him to become a knight.

We begin with an age appropriate introduction to medieval society. The author provides lots of picture support for what are complicated concepts and manages to explain without over simplifying the ideas. Gilbert talks about his life as a page and what it is like to live in a castle. We follow him as he is knighted and we learn more about the arms and armor of the time. Gilbert then goes on to explain about the purpose of tournaments before going on to discuss war in the Middle Ages.

For a picture book this book provides quite a bit of information for a child on what it would take to become a knight. While most younger children would find this a read aloud book, the book is heavily supported with pictures and labels to help children start to what might be new vocabulary for the time period.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Secrets of American History: Heroes Who Risked Everything for Freedom

I'm continuing to read and review Ready to Read's leveled reader history series because I do think it is important to have independent reading resources available for children that provide interesting engaging accurate material.

As I read Heroes Who Risked Everything for Freedom: Civil War (Secrets of American History)I continue to find the same strengths and weaknesses. When the book tries to discuss the large topic, in this case the causes for the Civil War, it does the series a disservice in oversimplifying the topic. It would have been best to focus on what they do well in telling the individual stories. The series continues to focus heavily on spies and intrigue, which I'm sure engages even some reluctant readers to pick up the book to find more.

The important part about these stories is they are engaging, but they fill gaps not always found in traditional books on the topic. While there are many books written on the amazing work Harriet Tubman did with the Underground Railroad, this book covers that material less often found in children's books about her war work as a spy and guide using her knowledge of the South to gain valuable intelligence for the Union. The section on Harriet Tubman alone makes this book a great read.

The book continues on to discuss the contributions of a several other African Americans who risked much for the Union cause and to promote freedom for slaves. Mary Touvestre is credited with stealing plans for an ironclad ship and bringing them to the secretary of the Navy in Washington, D.C. The book goes on to tell the story of Mary Elizabeth Bowser a freed slave, who risked her freedom by posing as a slave in the home of Jefferson Davis. She was a member of a spy ring formed by the woman who freed her. The next story is of a husband and wife who worked together, the husband gathering intelligence through his job as a cook and the wife using her laundry as a means of communication. The last story I found to be the most daring. Robert Smalls, a slave in South Carolina worked on a Confederate warship and through careful observation of the officers was able to steal the ship while they were ashore.

I'm still impressed with this series as a means to introduce early readers to history. The general history is weak, but the individual stories are gems. They bring the history alive. The limited format of a leveled reader clearly creates challenges, but I still think better editing could improve the general history portions of these books. However, the individual stories in this book are stories most younger readers won't find in books written for their age group and for that reason I continue to like this series.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

You Choose Greek Myths The Trojan War

I've become a fan of the You Choose series as a support for history, mythology, and traditional stories studies. I say support because I wouldn't suggest them as books to read at the introduction of a topic, but they are great extension activities when students have had exposure to the subject and wonder what if? Would different choice have created different outcomes? What was this event like for different people living at the same time?

The Trojan War: An Interactive Mythological Adventure (You Choose: Ancient Greek Myths) fits that criteria. It provides students with a great way to explore the Trojan war after they've had some exposure to the topic. It would not be my suggestion for a first book on the topic.

In this volume children can follow the path of Trojan Hero, Theris and Peleus's future son, or that of a Greek hero. Each path requires choices along the route and an understanding of the Trojan War will make the choices more interesting even if one chooses paths that alternate from the original history. Readers can go back and make new choices or follow the path to the end. They can also choose an new path when they reach the end of the first journey following all three paths if they choose to get a full idea of what the event was like for all three characters.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Where Poppies Grow A World War I Companion

Where Poppies Grow: A World War I Companionis a picture book about World War I suitable for all ages. I know more people are using picture books with older children, but this book lends itself very well as it uses pictures, drawings, and pictures of historical artifacts from the period to help illustrate what life was like for those who lived during World War I.

This book takes an interesting approach to the topic. It presents a brief vague discussion about the origins of World War I, but then it dives into what life was like for those who lived it with a heavy emphasis on the lives of Canadians. The book is divided into 2 page sections with the text primarily used to discuss the pictures. The sections are titled Kits and Kilts, To England's Green Fields, Across the Channel to Flanders and the Trenches, The Routine of Daily Life, Over the Top, On Flanders Fields, Warfare on the Seas, And in the Air, You Have Suffered Terribly, Propaganda and Patriotism, Keep the Home Fires Burning, A Child's World, Mum's the Word, The Poppy Poem, Angels, Statues, and Songs in the Night, Spies, Traitors, Or Not?, Man's Best Friend, Dear Cora A Soldier Doesn't Return, Dear Amy A Soldier Does Return, The Budding of Remembrance, and In Solemn Tribute

While many people do use children's books with older children what I thought made this book unique is the topics and the pictures chosen do make it a more useful book for a wider range of ages. The material is suitable for younger children as it doesn't dwell long on the harsher realities of war. It is unique for older students in the materials it uses to discuss the topics. The book begins with an 8th grade graduation photograph and the caption makes it clear that this may be the final education some of these students will ever have because they will not return from the war. For students closer in age to these children pictured it is a connection younger students may not make.

The pictures are the outline of the story and the text supports the pictures. The pictures aren't generic photographs of the trenches, but they are chosen to provide the reader with a feel for confinement both armies lived under and the challenges and dangers that created.

I was quite pleased to see how much attention the role of the female nurses got in this book. Field Hospital nursing in war conditions was a dangerous, physically, and mentally challenging role for women who were pushing their way out of traditional Victorian roles and looking for new roles in society. It was a pleasant surprise to see a prominent role in a World War I picture books for the women who served.

For those of you looking for a history of World War I with the battles fought, causes for the War, ending with the Treaty of Versailles, this is not that book. It is a history of the people who fought and those who supported them on the home front. It tries to explain what life was like if you were living at the time of the war. In an age where we have come to expect instant communication this book reminds us about a time when soldiers where burying phone lines to communicate battle plans on the front. The only way to communicate with loved ones fighting was by censored mail and while we likely can't imagine living like that, it was actually pretty advanced technology for the time period. It is good to remember sometimes what life was like for others.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the blend of personal stories from letters, postcards, and artifacts people kept from the war. It makes the book an interesting and engaging read, not just for children. I thought these stories were the strongest in the book.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Barbarians!is Steven Kroll's introduction to Barbarians in a picture book format.

The book is divided into four sections, the Goths, the Huns, the Vikings, and the Mongols. Each section describes the leaders, territories, relationship with Rome, culture, successes and ultimately demise of each group.

The format was particularly helpful for comparing and contrasting the various groups. The maps and timeline were a great tool for understanding which groups lived where, when. I also liked the picture of the Nine Worlds of the Norse World.

This is the type of resource I've been looking for as an add on to a Middle Ages curriculum.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Animal Adventures Bolton Massachusetts

A funny thing happened on our way to the Robin's Hood Fair for our second trip with family last May, it rained and they closed the fair. Faced with several cars of disappointed children and let's be honest adults we pulled out phones and began searching for a substitute destination. Thankfully, one family member remembered serving as a chaperone on her then high school senior's Kindergarten trip to Animal Adventures and suggested it would make a great alternate trip for our disappointed group. For those of you who are also interested in going the website is here. You can find information about pricing, hours, directions and additional programs available.

Well not only was it a great alternate destination for our animal and reptile loving family members it was likely a better destination than the one we'd planned as this was all activity all the time. There was little time spent waiting with no interaction or something to do.

When we arrived I wasn't really sure what to make of the place. This is one of the times to follow that old phrase about not judging a book by its cover. It doesn't look very big from the outside, but there is a world of wonder inside if you have kids that like creatures.

While they normally have set show hours of 11, 1, and 3, due to the increased volume, which will happen when a fair unexpectedly closes, they added a show, which was perfect for our family because we didn't have to wait until the next show that wouldn't have started until 1. We arrived too late to make the 11 show.

The kids were constantly engaged by the staff to see, touch and learn about various creatures. I will confess to having avoided the snakes and the reptiles, but looking at one of the books for the youngest nephew's homeschool science program next year there is a lesson about the spines of a porcupine and he's actually seen an touched them. What an amazing experience to bring into his nature study next year.

Along with the indoor exhibits there are also some outdoor places to interact with animals including rabbits and goats. This was a huge hit with our group.

For those with active ones another big hit for our group was the outdoor play structures. While we had a little light rain it cleared, which I'm sure the Faire wished they'd known would happen. The kids were spent breaks between visiting buildings and after we were done with animals playing on the wooden castle and the pirate ship which included swings and slides. These play areas were a huge bonus as the kids could burn off some energy in an appropriate manner.

All in all this was an amazing find and we will be back. We've done large zoo trips with the extended family and this was different because it was smaller. You didn't feel exhausted trying to get to see everything in a day. You could see it all in a few hours. It was much more personalized as it is designed for the staff to interact with visitors and to help them learn more about the creatures through engagement with them. We had a wide range of ages from Kindergarten through high school and nobody ever seemed bored. That is a rare situation when we make these multi-family trips as it is hard to find one activity that reaches all ages, but they all seemed fascinated by the creatures they were able to meet. This was one of our most successful outings, even if accidental.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Roughing It on the Oregon Trail

Roughing It on the Oregon Trail is another picture book in Diane Stanley's Time Traveling Twins historical fiction picture book series.

If you aren't familiar with the Time Traveling Twins, there are three books in the series in addition to this book Joining the Boston Tea Party (The Time-Traveling Twins) and Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation (The Time-Traveling Twins) and in all the books the twins travel back in time with their grandmother using a magic hat.

This trip begins with the children discussing family pictures on the wall in their grandmother's house. She asks them which person they'd like to meet and they settle on a picture of a relative who traveled on the Oregon Trail. Thus we find ourselves with the children crossing the west.

I like this series because children are drawn into the time period by sharing the history with other modern children. The fictional children ask questions and act in ways that help bridge the time period between the past and present for children reading or hearing the story.

This is a picture book designed for younger children, so some concepts are simplified or glossed over. The book does attempt to address the challenges without dealing with the realities of death and disease. If you are looking for a story that addresses the issues with the Native American population you won't find it here. This is not a book making social statements, it is a book designed to introduce children used to modern transportation to life during the age of wagon travel.

If you are looking for an introduction to western expansion for younger students this is a good start or an extra read for your unit.