Tag Archives: history

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

27 Jan

Today’s book review is for Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence, written by Gretchen Woelfle, illustrated by Alix Delinois, published by Lerner Publishing. It is scheduled for release on February 1, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Mumbet's Declaration of Independence

While the American colonists were fighting for their independence from British rule, one woman was fighting for her freedom from slavery. Mumbet was a slave in the household of a wealthy Massachusetts man who was involved in the Revolutionary War. She hears him speak of all men being created equal and wonders if that includes her. When Massachusetts drafts its new constitution with those words, she decides to put the new law to the test. This beautiful picture book biography tells the story of the strong, proud woman whose court case set the precedent to abolish slavery in the state of Massachusetts.

Delinois’s illustrations set the tone for the story. The bold, saturated colors create a feeling of intensity. The angular and somber faces tell the audience that this is an important story. Each character’s body language reveals aspects of their personality. In the case of Mumbet, nearly always standing tall and looking out to the horizon, we see a woman of confidence, strength, and vision. I liked that the art wasn’t just visually pleasing, but added depth and nuance to the story.

The story itself is beautifully written. Woelfle was very skilled at paring down the narrative to be accessible to young readers, while keeping hold of the emotion of the story. I liked the way that she was able to make history come alive. While there are no records of precisely what Mumbet thought, writing the story from her perspective gave it a strong impact. Soon after I read it, I found myself sharing the story with my husband, because I’d found it so compelling.

For those who would like to expand their history lesson, there are additional resources at the end of the book. The first is the author’s note which explains how this story was preserved for posterity, what we don’t know about the story, and how Mumbet is now part of historical tours. The second resource is a selected bibliography which provides suggestions for books that might be of interest to readers who enjoyed this story and want to learn more on the topic.

This is a great book for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, a unit on the Revolutionary War, or discussion on the history of slavery in the United States. I’m giving the book 5 stars for being engaging and educational. It’s an excellent resource for teaching kids about history, and it’s a beautiful book to boot. It would be an excellent addition to any library, classroom, or home.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

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The Visit

23 Nov

Today’s book review is for The Visit: The Origin of “The Night Before Christmas”, written by Mark Kimball Moulton, illustrated by Susan Winget, published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Visit book cover

The Visit is a magical new holiday book that details the history of the famous poem “The Night Before Christmas,” which was written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822. This history was passed down through the generations and shared with the author by Moore’s great-great-granddaughter, Dinghy Sharp. It’s a lovely work of family history, literary history and holiday magic woven together in a volume that will surely become a Christmas treasure.

Moulton does an excellent job sharing all of this information. Not only does he pull it all together into a compelling narrative–but he does so in the same rhyming verse style of the original poem. There were a couple of places where the meter was slightly off, but it wasn’t too distracting. He structures the story so that the first portion is told from young Dinghy’s perspective. He really captures the wonder and magic of visiting New York City, for the first time, at Christmastime. Then, Dinghy’s grandfather takes over to explain to his grandchildren the strange words and unfamiliar actions that happen in “The Night Before Christmas”–from hanging stockings to the making of sugar-plums. In the third section, he tells the story of why Moore wrote it, and how he came up with the idea. This structure was so engaging. I loved how it kept drawing the reader further back in time.

Winget’s illustrations are the perfect companion to the piece. They have this beautiful antique feel to them. The colors are muted: burgundy reds, forest greens, parchment yellows, and crockery white. Yet every image is full of beauty and captures that classic Christmas feel. There’s a soft fuzziness that gives the feeling of looking back through the mists of time. There’s rich historical detail. I think that the illustrations alone will motivate many people to buy this book.

My favorite part, though, is the very end. That’s because a copy of the original poem, in Moore’s own handwriting, is included. The old cursive may be a challenge for some to read, but how wonderful to see it in the author’s own hand! (It can even be used to give older children a history lesson on “primary source documents”.) The book was very thoughtfully executed. I give it 4 out of 5 stars. If anyone has been looking for the perfect Christmas book to gift to a kid, look no further.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

It’s a Feudal, Feudal World

20 Nov

Today’s book review is for It’s a Feudal, Feudal World: A Different Medieval History, written by Stephen Shapiro, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, published by Annick Press. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

It's a Feudal, Feudal World book cover

It’s a Feudal, Feudal World is an innovative book that explores medieval history through infographics, cartoons, and lively text. It covers a wide range of topics, from life expectancy to siege methods. Throughout it makes a point to emphasize the contributions of both women and men, and to highlight the intercultural influences on the period. As a bit of a medievalist myself, I was thrilled to see how much detail was fit into such a short volume.

Shapiro clearly knows his material. Each page is filled with information to stimulate and engage young minds. It’s hard to find history dull, as presented by the author. That’s because all of the information is accompanied by jokes and bits of humor. The reason he’s able to include so much information is because rather than get bogged down in explanations of everything, he opts to use infographics to convey important data and ideas. After all, why read a description of a Viking longship when you can look at a diagram instead?

There’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’d say that in this case, it’s absolutely true. Kinnaird’s illustrations give life to this history. His cartoons grabbed me from the beginning and made me want to keep reading. They also helped me to understand concepts, such as how mills could be powered by various sources. And I loved the image of the librarian chained to his books–maybe because I could relate a little.

The book also contains a glossary, selected bibliography, and index to enhance the ways students are able to engage with the book. It has a great design and format.

I think this would make a great addition to a classroom or library that serves grades 4-7. It’s the sort of book that I wish had been around when I was growing up. It looks deceptively simple–it’s mostly pictures, and many of those are cartoons. However, anyone who reads it is sure to come away knowing far more than when they began. I’m giving it 5 out of 5 stars. It’s always nice when a book is able to successfully combine education and entertainment.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington

7 Oct

Today’s book review is for Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington, written by Lynda Durrant, illustrated by Joe Rossi, published by Vanita Books. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington is an early chapter book based on the true story of a 9-year-old boy who was recruited by George Washington to act as a spy during the American Revolutionary War. When his older brothers come home on leave, Ariel is asked if he can play the “Johnny Raw” (country bumpkin) for General Washington. So begins Ariel’s adventure, where he must enter enemy encampments to gather information about troop numbers, weaponry, horses and conditions–all while pretending to be a country bumpkin in search of a flour mill. Exciting and entertaining, school children are sure to connect with Ariel, and learn some American history along the way.

Durrant does a wonderful job at drawing readers into the story. Rather than get bogged down in descriptions of setting, she opts to instead focus on events and character. I liked this tactic–it kept the story moving forward and didn’t allow time for the mind to wander. Another thing that I enjoyed was that throughout the text, we get to experience Ariel’s confusion, doubts, and fears. Even though he was doing something very important and brave, it was also dangerous. By sharing these insights, Durrant let’s children know that it’s normal to be plagued by doubts and fear, even when you’re doing the right thing.

Rossi’s illustrations are a lot of fun. He blends a modern chariacture-inspired cartoon style with layers of watercolor and digital aging techniques to produce dynamic images. In this way he is able to appeal to his young audience while also capturing the sense of looking back at the past. Rossi is particularly adept at rendering facial expressions in his work. My favorite picture was one of British General Howe, looking particularly stuffy.

The book closes with an afterward detailing additional history about the real Ariel Bradley and what happened to him after his stint as a spy. It also include a short glossary of terms that children might not have known before reading. It’s a nicely designed book–from layout choices to font selection, it has an attractive, high quality appearance.

I think that Ariel Bradley, Spy for General Washington would make an excellent addition to schools and public libraries. It gets 4 out of 5 stars, for strong educational value and solid kid appeal. Plus, it helps show children that they do, in fact, have the power and agency to shape the course of history.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.