February 20, 2018

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Reference Book Reviews | February 2014

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SLJ140201w-RefRev_HeroesandHeroinesredstarCritical Survey of Mythology and Folklore: Heroes & Heroines. 516p. appendix. bibliog. chron. index. maps. websites. Salem Press. 2013. Tr $175. ISBN 9781619251816; ebk. ISBN 9781619251861.

Gr 9 Up– These 40 essays presented in six thematic categories (“Birth and Prophecy,” “Trial and Quest,” “The Host of Heroines,” “Myth and Monstrosity,” “The Cultural Hero,” and “Survey of Myth and Folklore”) will allow advanced students to compare heroes and heroines across eras and cultures. The “Cultural Hero” chapter, for example, includes individually authored entries about tricksters such as Anansi the spider, Robin Hood, and China’s mischievous monkey king. In “Myth and Monstrosity” are essays about David and Goliath, Perseus and Medusa, and China’s serpent slayer, Li Chi. A chapter on heroines includes Ethiopia’s legend of the Queen of Sheba, Mark Twain’s analysis of Joan of Arc, and China’s female warrior, Mulan. Harry Potter’s journey is the subject of a chapter discussing typical aspects of a mythological hero, such as extraordinary powers bestowed at birth, a call to adventure, and the endurance of tests and trials. Essays offer an overview, a summary, analysis, cross-cultural influences, a bibliography, and a sidebar of historical context. Unusual features include the title’s 16 maps, which are complemented by charts of area mythological figures. In addition to a complete general index, there are indexes by country, culture, and time. Most useful is free access to the online version of the material. A chapter on using mythology in the classroom, and a sample lesson plan analyzing Homer’s Penelope is directed at college instructors, but could be of interest to teachers of advanced secondary students in the current push to increase the rigor of their ELA curriculum.–Vicki Reutter, State University of New York at Cortland

Discovery Science. 9 vols. 2416p. chart. diag. illus. index. maps. photos. World Book. 2013. lib. ed. $355. ISBN 9780716675174.

Gr 4-8 –With all the buzz about Common Core State Standards, this set seems like it would fill a gap. But, its cost would more effectively be spent on stand-alone nonfiction titles that more thoroughly address the topics it covers. The updated series includes the following topics—animals and humans (two volumes each), Earth, matter and energy, plants, space, and technology. The full-color set is browsable and attractive and contains some beneficial material—such as experiments, activities, and QR codes that launch videos which provide additional information. The content is an appropriate launching pad or first step in research, but it is far too cursory to provide much more than that. Also, while the organization of the individual books mostly makes sense, searching within the work won’t come intuitively to its intended audience. For example, the Charles Darwin entry is found in the animals volume, and topics like fruit and fire are found in the material on humans. The images are mostly stock and don’t add a great deal to the explanations. This set is recommended for small school libraries that have Internet access for deeper research and a budget that won’t allow purchasing other science encyclopedias or an extensive nonfiction collection, but it will be of limited use in other settings.–Sharon Verbeten, Brown County Library, Green Bay, WI

Hill, Jeff. THE WPA—Putting America to Work. 264p. (Defining Moments Series). bibliog. chron. further reading. index. notes. photos. reprods. Omnigraphics. 2013. lib. ed. $55. ISBN 9780780813311. LC 2013022479.

Gr 8 Up –A solid survey of the Works Progress Administration and the Great Depression in general. The book places the WPA in historical context, giving readers background on the hardships and realities of the period and the difficult political decisions that had to be made following the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929. Hill describes the Hoover administration’s response to the crises and contrasts it with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s profoundly different strategy. The book explains the various New Deal programs, such as the difference between the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. Differences between direct relief and work relief are also explained. Hill provides in-depth coverage of the political struggle between New Deal backers and their rivals. Black-and-white photographs depict examples of WPA and other New Deal projects, such as the Fort Loudoun Dam, the San Antonio River Walk, and the photography of Dorothea Lange. A section includes biographical information on important figures such as Harry Hopkins, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jackson Pollock. The final section is comprised of primary sources, giving students an opportunity to read actual documents from the time. They include works by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Walter Lippmann, Hallie Flanagan, and several others, providing readers with firsthand accounts of New Deal programs. Additional black-and-white photographs of important political and social figures, political cartoons, and images of New Deal recruiting posters appear throughout. This volume is a well-sourced and great reference for historical research.–Jeffrey Meyer, Mount Pleasant Public Library, IA

Introduction to Literary Context: American Short Fiction. 300p. bibliog. index. reprods. Salem Press. 2013. lib. ed. $165. ISBN 9781619252127.

Gr 9 Up –With too many typos, this set is ill-prepared and unclear in its purpose. Ostensibly an introduction to “short fiction,” it includes Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, and Faulkner’s novel-esque collection of intertwined stories, Go Down, Moses, while also devoting an entry to “The Bear” (a story from that same collection). The typos (geometry instead of geography, for example, and stating that Faulkner received the 1949 “Novel Prize”) are clearly accidents, not reflective necessarily of any intrinsic weakness in the book, but certainly they are reflective of a lack of editorial care that is sadly also apparent in the very rudimentary level of some of the articles. The discussion of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” barely touches the surface of the work’s profound theological and moral dimensions. To dismiss the “Misfit” as a devil-like representation of hypocrisy without pressing further presents a cursory reading of the story at best. Each entry includes a general synopsis, along with a discussion of symbols and motifs and the historical, societal, religious, scientific and technological, and biographical contexts present in the story. While the writing is clear and easy to follow, the discussion questions at the end of each entry will be helpful to teachers and reading-group organizers, and the list of essay ideas of use to students and teachers, the volume as a whole is lacking.–Herman Sutter, St. Agnes Academy, Houston.

Manifest Destiny & the New Nation (1803-1859). 2 vols. 688p. (Defining Documents in American History). bibliog. chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. websites. Salem Press. 2013. Tr $295. ISBN 9781429837422. LC 2013020044.

Gr 9 Up –This set uses detailed analysis of primary sources to explore seven broad topics concerning the newly independent United States: “Antebellum Law and Politics,” “Manifest Destiny,” “The Spirit of Reform,” “African American Protest Literature,” “The New American Identity,” “Religious Expansion,” and “Native American Land and Autonomy.” Most sections contain about 10 chronologically arranged primary sources (speeches, essays, letters, court decisions, etc.), for a total of 61. Major entries are accompanied by an overview, historical context, and essential themes, and conclude with three to five supplemental historical documents (without analysis). “The Spirit of Reform,” for example, begins with a feminist essay by Hannah Crocker (1818), contains Emerson’s essay on self-reliance (1841), and concludes with transcripts and remarks from the trial of John Brown (1848). Single-page lesson plans accompany each entry, offering questions and activities. Concise and well-written section introductions give even-handed treatment to many-layered topics, and the essays are uniformly of high quality. The primary sources range from a few fairly dry legal decisions to more impassioned entries such as two rousing speeches by Tecumseh, accounts from a man emigrating from England in steerage, and a memoir from a woman traveling to California in pursuit of gold. Purchase includes access to the content online. Shaded boxes for the primary source material in print make those resources slightly easier to identify in that format, but the electronic version is overall easy to navigate and greatly increases the versatility of the material for libraries and classroms. Either one is an excellent choice for teachers or motivated high school students looking for a detailed examination of this period.–Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

redstarTucker, Spencer C., ed. American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. 6 vols. 2777p. appendix. bibliog. chart. chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. reprods. ABC-CLIO. 2013. lib. ed. $625. ISBN 9781851096770; ebk. $967.28 ISBN 9781851096824. LC 2013016414.

Gr 8 Up –U. S. Civil War aficionados will delight in this well-researched and well-organized encyclopedia. The text is broad and comprehensive, covering topics such as military officers, battles, states, statesmen, spies, authors, philosophers, inventions, and veterans’ organizations. Each entry is signed and is followed by multiple cross references and further readings. The two-columns-per-page format is nicely arranged with a comfortable font and margins. Bold-faced headings carry birth and death dates of each subject (one exception noted) and the dates of battles. Black-and-white photos and lithographs accompany many entries, and several pieces include maps or charts. An appendix in volume five lists military honors, and volume six contains 172 primary-source documents (such as Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” and John C. Frémont’s “Proclamation Freeing Slaves of Missouri”) that are not often found together. Give this set very serious consideration.–Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.