Food Fight! A Mouthwatering History of Who Ate What and Why Through the Ages by Tanya Steel

Food FightNational Geographic Kids, 2018.

I really wanted to like this book. I love food and history, and I always have. I know this book would have just jumped into my hands from the bookstore shelf when I was a kid. I read merrily along at first, albeit briefly shaking my head at why the publisher would think a ten question multiple choice quiz was needed or desirable on every fifth spread. But soon I began to be slowed by the content itself.

The recipes are made with real, not processed, ingredients (beyond the occasional can of beans) and look to support both healthy eating and good cooking techniques, so I was eager to try some. Unfortunately, in the first recipe I decided to try “Barley Bread” I struck out on finding the barley flour required (and if Whole Foods doesn’t have it, I don’t know where to look except online). On the other hand, had I been a kid, I might have chosen one of the other recipes like hummus which have ingredients more likely to be found at a supermarket or at least at Whole Foods. So the recipes aren’t a deal breaker.

The format is one National Geographic Kids publications are known for: bright colorful pictures, enticing subtitles, and “chunked” text so kids can read a little or a lot. These pages are appealing to kids at a range of reading levels. The problem is that sometimes the pictures chosen don’t reflect the content. For example, in the medieval times chapter there’s a recipe for pork meatballs cooked in almond milk and served on a trencher. The recipe is for meatballs and the trencher is made from a baguette, but the picture above the recipe clearly shows a meatball sub. Nothing in the recipe makes red sauce with green herbs artfully sprinkled on top. This may seem like a niggling complaint, and yet, pictures pack a huge informational punch, especially with kids, and this picture makes it look as if people in medieval times ate tomato sauce–when tomatoes had not yet arrived in Europe at this time. That’s very misleading.

There were a number of problems I found with the text itself as well. I found the text to be culturally loaded more than once. The game played with pig knuckles was called a “primitive” form of jacks–I’m not sure why that label was used–the game is pretty much the same whether you use a ball and machine-made jacks or pig knuckles. In addition, sometimes the text seemed simply to be written too quickly without editing or reflection as is the case in this sentence:  “Wild animals ran freely through city streets, so sometimes it was hard to get to the market because a cow was in the way!” I’m pretty sure there weren’t wild cows in medieval Europe.

But I read on, hoping I would be won over. I gave up on the book entirely when I reached the chapter on Mongols and the Silk Road. In Menus of the Rich and Famished, it speaks of a traditional dish for the wealthy in the 1400s made by filling a goat’s stomach with hot rocks vegetables, water, and potatoes–there’s a lovely photo of a potato and a cabbage above the section. Sorry folks, no potatoes in Mongolia in the 15th century, they’re still in South America. I can’t imagine where the author got this information or why it made through to publication.

I’m so sorry I can’t recommend this book to kids and families. Food and history are fun subjects, and together with good recipes they’re really fabulous. But only if you can trust them to be correct.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Hidden City Poems of Urban Wildlife

Hidden City

Written by Sarah Grace Tuttle

Illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2018.

I grew up in the woods with the summer sounds of wood thrushes and katydids lulling me to sleep each night. In spring, we searched the woods for Indian pipes, Dutchman’s breeches, and lady slippers. The squirrels and songbirds joined us at meals at our picnic table among the trees. Despite all this, I was thrilled to move right into Boston when I was a teenager, and I’ve never wanted to be too far from that city since. But in the years I raised my young children, I despaired of giving them the kind of connection to nature that was so easy to nurture in the woods. I wish I had had a copy of Hidden City when they were small.

Sarah Tuttle’s poems evoke the rhythms, sounds, and behaviors of the wildlife tucked in and around a city landscape. Tuttle’s love and knowledge of wildlife and ecology sings through with information artfully included in each poem to help children and their parents know where to look for wildlife and learn more about each species. The poems focus on the everyday sightings of pigeons, sparrows, and dandelions and the more unusual: raccoons at night, snakes in the vacant lot, red-winged blackbirds in the marsh by the railroad track. These rich poems will spark interest—and questions. A rich double-page spread of end notes provides both more information and a list of resources for families wanting to learn more.

Tuttle’s beautiful poems are beautifully paired with artist Amy Schimler-Safford’s colorful artwork. The pictures are not only inviting, but also fun and informative. Many of the pictures have wildlife hidden here and there for eager readers to find. Who wouldn’t want to dive into these appealing pictures to find the dragonfly among the cattails, count the snails at night, or imagine the mouse’s warm paper nest?

To be fair, I must disclose that Sarah Tuttle is a critique partner of mine, so I have known and loved these poems for some time. I will be buying this book for my home library and sharing it with families I know. Even if you don’t know her, if you are raising or teaching children in a city environment, you will want a copy of this book to read and study and to encourage your family to go out and discover the wildlife in your neighborhood.

I received an advance reader copy of Hidden City courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly Into the Twentieth Century by Sue Macy

Motor GirlsNational Geographic, 2017

Beyond the occasional “Hey look at that cool old car!” I never thought much about the history of cars—that is until I received a review copy of Motor Girls. This gorgeous book about the rise of the automobile industry and its relation to women and women’s rights is filled with primary source material, fabulous period photographs and advertisements, and information that makes a long ago blossoming of technology relevant to today.

Motor Girls relates the way women took to driving from the very first, starting with socialites and actresses and moving on into the middle class. Cars allowed women to get out of the home more, and so women’s driving was controversial. Roads were rough and trips of any great length required skills at tire changing and repairs—skills many women proved themselves amply capable of. World War I allowed even more women to learn to drive as they supported the war effort, sometimes under dangerous conditions. In addition, public cross country drives became an important part of the women’s suffrage movement.

Interesting facts, anecdotes, and historical figures abound in this book. Sidebars include manners for motorists, fashion tips, race accounts, and many mini biographies.

An utterly delightful read, Motor Girls not only contains interesting historical content, but a message of women’s resistance that is very relevant today. Young readers may easily dip into sections or sidebars or read cover to cover. I’d recommend this for classroom, school, and home libraries, and for anyone who needs a feminist boost.

Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry

St. Martin’s Press, 2016.adnans-story

During his senior year in high school, Adnan Syed, an honors magnet program student and EMT with hopes to become a doctor was arrested for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Evidence was circumstantial at best and terribly thin. Nevertheless, Adnan was found guilty and sentenced to life plus thirty years. This compelling account, written by family friend Rabia Chaudry, fills in many of the gaps left by popular podcasts about the case, namely Serial and Undisclosed.

Though this book is marketed to adult audiences, I’m including it here because many students are exposed to Serial in the classroom. I imagine that, like me, many of the students who listened to Serial would crave even more details. So many of the people involved as witnesses were simply ordinary teenagers in suburban Baltimore, and events centered around typical teenage activities and the high school that Adnan and Hae attended.

I came to this book after listening to both Serial and Undisclosed, so I feel like I must qualify this review. I loved the narrative here, Chaudry’s descriptions of the Muslim community in Baltimore, her inside scoop not only on Adnan, but also his family. I did know a lot about the case before reading this, so I might have missed holes in this narrative–certainly there are far too many details to this story to include in one book.

I spent a week eagerly reading this in my spare time. It’s a compelling story, a satisfying read, and a sobering account of our justice systems and prisons. This would be a great addition to a classroom or school library for students who are captivated by the story and want to learn more. I recommend it highly.