September 21, 2017

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The Winds of Change | A New Series Explores the Intersection of Culture and Economy

Picture book stories that introduce children to concepts, accomplished individuals, and historical events and periods can provide an enticing entrée into a new unit of study. They are also a perfect segue into a literacy lessons on where and how fictionalization enters a story based on historical fact, and puts a human face on social change. A new series from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, “Trade Winds,” offers both these opportunities for teachers of upper elementary students.

The books, which were originally published in Korea and edited by Joy Cowley, address “key periods in the history of economy and culture,” and contain distinguished illustrative art and illuminating back matter. Of the four titles, Lion, King, and Coin by Jeong-hee Nam and illustrated by Lucia Sforza features the earliest setting: between the seventh and sixth century BCE,  under the reign of King Alyattes in the kingdom of Lydia in Asia Minor. Here, located near the Pactolus River, where King Midas was said to have washed away his golden touch, the first coins based on a standard unit of measurement, were created.

The protagonist of Lion is a boy who pans for gold in the river’s sand, and hears the King Midas myth from his grandfather. Why coins were needed, and how they were made, is related in story form and illustrated in bright pastels, against decorative patterned backgrounds. And the lion on the coin? It was imprinted as a reminder of King Alyattes’s power and authority. Notes on the invention of coins and their precursors, and Lydia, round out this simply told tale.

Despite an early invention of coins, bartering continued, as evidenced in Ji-yun Jang’s Father’s Road, a story featuring a parent and child embarking on a long desert journey to “faraway lands.” Knowing what is ahead of him (his father has traveled this way many times before to sell silk), young Wong Chung wonders if he will ever see his mother again as they set off on camels under a blazing sun. On their journey, the group with which the boy and his father travel stops at an oasis village, trades silk for supplies, sees the flaming red Huoyan Shan Mountains, and survives a bandit attack (they steal the silk) as a powerful sandstorm arrives. Nearly buried by the storm that rages throughout the night, Wong Chung emerges to discover another child huddled nearby, suffering with fever. With attention and tea, Wong Chung revives him, and learns that the child is part of the bandit group. In return for saving the child, the thieves return the silk to Wong Chung’s caravan, which goes on its way, later exchanging their precious goods for spices and oils at a souk “bustling with people buying and selling.”

Tan Jun’s finely detailed line illustrations against textured paper highlight desert tones and provide information about period dress and travel. Notes on the Silk Road provide additional information on the network of roads established by the Han Dynasty between 138 and 116 BCE, and the exchange of goods, ideas, and innovations along the route during the period. Endpapers provide a map of the some of the routes.

The rise of the banking industry in Italy is the subject of Eun-jeong Jo’s Grandfather Whisker’s Table,  another story featuring a father and son. On a visit to Siena to view the celebrated Palio di Siena horse race, Enzo and his father purchase a small wooden bird for the boy’s baby brother, and, later, watch as a man (“Grandfather Whisker”) sitting at a table lends, deposits, and exchanges money for the locals and those traveling to see the festivities. Afraid he will lose the bird, Enzo asks his father if he can leave the toy at the banco. The amused banker agrees to take the object, and in exchange, hands the boy a receipt. Despite losing the precious slip of paper, Enzo is able to retrieve the toy from Grandfather Whisker, learning a valuable lesson in banking.

Bimba Landmann’s stylized illustrations with their foreshortened shallow stages, tilted perspectives, and  flattened figures—including three presented as a triptych—reflect the art of medieval Italy. Notes offer a brief overview of the rise of bancos in Siena, their services, and different currencies.

Gyeong-hwa Kim’s Leather Shoe Charlie is set in rural England during the Industrial Revolution. Charlie’s grandfather is a cobbler, who has fashioned the boy a sturdy pair of leather shoes. As more and more families begin leaving the countryside for work in the cities, the boy’s father moves his family to Manchester, where he, his wife, and young sons find work in a factory. The family works long hours and the Angel Meadow neighborhood they live in is grim, overcrowded, and polluted with thick smoke from surrounding factories. Charlie’s mother soon develops a cough and overhearing someone suggest tea as a cure, the boy sets out to find some. He locates some, but it is expensive. The child eventually trades in his special shoes for the tea.

In addition to being a heartwarming story about a boy’s sacrifice for a parent, the story highlights a period of rapid social and economic change, the movement from craftsmanship to mass-produced goods, the working and living conditions during the Industrial Revolution, and the environmental impact of the factories particularly on the neigborhood’s health. While the text and back matter mention the living conditions in Manchester during the period, it does not go into great detail on the horrific conditions of Angel Meadow. Added Information on the period, the rise of a global economy (the tea from China), is supported by a map, glossary, and a chart noting the change in rural vs urban populations in Britain from 1801-1900. Illustrations by Anna Balbusso and Elena Balbusso, are rendered in a predominance of browns and grays, while Charlie’s red and orange shoes—while he has them—provide a bright note in the story.

In addition to the back matter extras noted above, each book offers a related time line of events, and a paragraph defining “key terms and concepts,” along with many opportunities for further research. Using books and databases have your students locate photos of the first coins, the tenements of Angel Meadow or learn more about life in medieval Siena, the Palio di Siena horse races (which continue to today), or create an illustrated map of some of the Silk Road routes.

Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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