Children's Book ReviewsThe Internet Writing Journal, September 1999 Page Three of Three
Aztecs: The Fall of the Aztec Capital (DK Discoveries) by Richard Platt, Illustrated by Peter DennisDK Publishing, May 1999.
Hardcover, 48 pages
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
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Aztecs, The Fall of the Aztec Capital, begins with the cataclysmic events which resulted when the Europeans encountered the already advanced civilization in place in Central America. Like all Dorling Kindersley books in the Discoveries series, it contains an enormous amount of information accompanied by detailed drawings and photographs of great clarity. The format of the book is to give many pictures organized as to subject, period in history or some other point of reference. Underneath or adjacent to the illustration will be a caption explaining all aspects of the picture. Eyewitness quotations give the added understanding that only a primary source can bestow.
The first chapters introduce us to the characters and their points of view. The vital question of who the Aztecs actually were is considered next. The stage for these two groups to play out their destiny is described in great detail. Tenochtitlan, the city on the lake, we find was larger than Seville. The effect on the Spaniards of this orderly and peaceful city was substantial.
Aztecs begins with the clash of cultures of the Spaniards and the Aztecs and thus immediately plunges us into the battles caused by misunderstanding on the part of the native culture and the unfortunate qualities of greed and love of conquest that the Spaniards personified. As they had throughout their history, the European viewed cultures with less technology as clearly ignorant. This arrogant attitude colored everything that the newcomers did from then on.
The Conquest of Mexico was certain to follow, and the panorama of this mighty conflict is shown in meticulous detail by two fold out pages. In a tragic sequence we see the Spaniards' discovery of Monteczuma's room full of golden treasure. From this event the pages chronicle the misunderstandings, the mistakes and the events that led up to the defeat of the Spaniards. These events are followed by the siege that the Spaniards waged against Tenochtitlan which then resulted in the final defeat of the Aztecs. This entire rendering of the conflict will answer so many questions and leave the reader with a detailed understanding of what really happened.
The second part of Aztecs educates the reader as to the Aztec way of life. Now the reader can begin to appreciate all aspects of Aztec culture and be able to view museum examples with more understanding. One can find out how these ingenious people actually fed their population by farming on top of a lake. The explanation of why and how the Aztecs came to practice human sacrifice will illuminate us, but will fail to convert us. An explanation of Aztec writing and counting gives an excellent overview of symbols that previously may have been hard to understand.
Aztecs is not only a great book for juveniles, but it can also be a quick study for an adult who has heretofore not taken the time to understand those puzzling figures from pre-Columbian times. Most students of upper elementary age will be studying Central America in the fifth or sixth grades. This book will be an invaluable help for an assigned project on the subject, and it will fascinate any nearby adult who happens to sneak a look into it.
--Sarah Reaves White
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Adapted by Naia Bray-Moffatt, Illustrated by Ian AndrewDK Publishing (Eyewitness Classics), April 1999.
Hardcover, 63 pages
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Abridging, or the retelling in simpler language of a literary classic, has a venerable heritage. One is reminded of Charles and Mary Lamb's nineteenth century edition of Tales from Shakespeare, which was met with much approbation and affection by parents and children alike. It quickly became a classic form in which the plot remains, the characters remain, but the difficult vocabulary and sophisticated sentence constructions of literature can be left to be enjoyed later in life.
As parents, teachers and friends, it is our duty to impart the best from our collective culture and history to the next generation so that they will have a standard by which to compare all the new experiences they will meet in life. The Eyewitness Classics edition of Oliver Twist has done a masterful job of presenting this exciting story for young readers. As the reader looks through the book, the first section gives an excellent presentation of the importance of this story as the first story in English that has a child as the main protagonist, the interest that Victorians had in the underworld, and the importance that the story had to its readers.
Throughout this rendering of Dickens' classic tale, the reader will find the sensitive drawings by Ian Andrew, who renders the bleak environment of poverty, crime and hopelessness in somber colors and stark details. The illustrations catch the emotions of the moment as Oliver looks up at the overpowering master and beadle to ask for more food, or when he looks out his window to see the faces of Fagin and Monks staring at him. In addition to the illustrations the story gives an accurate picture of the historical milieu by including interesting photographs with accompanying captions underneath. From early photographs of street scenes of impoverished children squatting against a wall under a clothes line to an interesting collection of pictures that explains the origin of the word "bobbie," the illustrations are both enlightening and moving.
Parents can turn their young readers loose in the literature of most of the great Victorian writers with confidence that there will be adventure, heartbreak and excitement, that will always be accompanied by high moral standards phrased in acceptable language. The evil characters will either be redeemed or severely punished, and decent, kindly persons will achieve the happiness that they deserve.
Oliver Twist begins with a baby boy orphaned at birth, raised in a poor house, apprenticed at nine to a brutal funeral director and his wife, and finally apprenticed to the evil Fagin as a student thief on the streets of London. No one could face a more hopeless future. Oliver is befriended by two victims who are set up to be robbed by his acquaintances. The first victim is a kindly old gentleman who is buying books at a London booksellers stall. Two of Fagin's boys rob the old gentleman, but Oliver is blamed. At the magistrate's courtroom, Mr. Brownlow recognizes Oliver's true nature, and takes him home. However Oliver's new cohorts retrieve him when he is sent on an errand. Next Oliver is taken out on a burglary which goes awry. In the confusion Oliver, faint with hunger and neglect, stumbles back to the house that he was supposed to help rob where he is taken in this time by two kindly women. Fearful that he may help identify them, Fagin and his friends are always out to get Oliver back. Nevertheless, Oliver is helped by Nancy, the unfortunate wife of the brutal Bill Sikes. Nancy pays with her life, but her murderous husband is hunted down, makes a misstep as he tries to escape and meets a violent death. Fagin is discovered and sent to Newgate Prison to be hanged. Oliver, on the other hand learns the true circumstances of his birth, claims his inheritance and goes to live in a pleasant village among good and kindly friends.
Oliver Twist is an excellent book for the older elementary student. The hard edged adventure and solid values taught are readily understandable for a child of this age, and this book will no doubt leave a young person with respect for the author and an interest in reading other books by Charles Dickens.
--Sarah Reaves White
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