Echoes From the Past: History Series Nonfiction

With a mix of books that highlight castles, gladiators, and famous historic sites alongside the current geopolitical and cultural climate, this season’s series have a lot to offer readers of all ages. These titles help make history come alive.

With a mix of books that highlight castles, gladiators, and famous historic sites alongside the current geopolitical and cultural climate, this season’s series have a lot to offer readers of all ages. Titles touch on a variety of popular and timely topics such as social justice issues, pandemic illnesses, and royalty. In addition to the relevant content available for readers, many series contain critical-thinking and/or review questions along with further recommended reading sources. These titles help make history come alive.

 

ELEMENTARY TO EARLY MIDDLE SCHOOL

Beck, Michelle Dakota. Reconstruction and Its Aftermath: Freed Slaves After the Civil War. ISBN 9781422244050.
Gildae, Catherine A. Escape from Slavery: Abolitionists and the Underground Railroad. ISBN 9781422244043.
––––. Women and Children in Slavery. ISBN 9781422244098.
Nicole, Ashley. Slave Life on a Southern Plantation. ISBN 9781422244067.
Rowan, Jennifer L. Causes of the Civil War. ISBN 9781422244036.
Sjursen, Katrin E. Slave Revolts and Rebellions. ISBN 9781422244074.
Turner, Amanda. The Slave Trade in Colonial America. ISBN 9781422244081.
ea vol: 80p. (Rare Glimpses of Slave Life). photos. websites. Mason Crest. Sept. 2019. Tr. $32.95.
Gr 3-6 –Intermediate text introduces readers to life for enslaved and formerly enslaved African Americans living in the United States from the colonial period through the civil rights era. Sidebars, embedded video links, and images, some of which are disturbingly graphic (including the lynching of George Meadows in Reconstruction) fill the pages. In addition, comprehension questions and suggested research projects, with recommended websites, are included. Quoted material is sourced in each title’s back matter, but there is no formal bibliography. Some of the recommended reading titles are by scholars like Henry Louis Gates, Jr. while others are literary classics like Beloved. Unfortunately, confusing and contradictory sentences and inconsistent captions detract from the content. VERDICT While the series has some strengths in its content and recommended reading material, the length, level of writing, and graphic images make it less attractive for an elementary or middle school audience.

Howell, Izzi. The Genius of the Ancient Greeks. ISBN 9780778765721.
––––. The Genius of the Anglo-Saxons. ISBN 9780778765738.
––––. The Genius of the Maya. ISBN 9780778765752.
––––. The Genius of the Romans. ISBN 9780778765769.
––––. The Genius of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. ISBN 9780778765776.
Newland, Sonya. The Genius of the Ancient Egyptians. ISBN 9780778765714.
––––. The Genius of the Benin Kingdom. ISBN 9780778765745.
––––. The Genius of the Vikings. ISBN 9780778765905.
ea vol: 32p. (The Genius of the Ancients). glossary. index. photos. websites. Crabtree. Jul. 2019. Tr. $27.60.
Gr 4-6 –These image-rich titles cover each ancient civilization’s history, location, and culture with clearly organized and easy to follow text. Facts about a civilization are presented within two-to-three-page chapters that have two columns of text on a page along with appropriately placed and relevant sidebars. Images of artifacts, art, or photographs of what remains of the civilizations today appear on every page, and the page layout allows readers to engage with the content. People from different socio-economic classes within the civilizations are covered. A list of recommended titles and websites is included along with glossaries that are unique to every title. No source notes are provided. VERDICT Though mostly Western in focus, these titles provide a good glimpse into the history and impact of ancient civilizations.

Kenney, Karen Latchana. Real-Life Kings. ISBN 9781541557307.
––––. Real-Life Princes. ISBN 9781541557284.
––––. Real-Life Princesses. ISBN 9781541557291.
––––. Real-Life Queens. ISBN 9781541557314.
ea vol: 24p. (Bumba Books ® — Real-Life Royalty). further reading. glossary. index. photos. Lerner. Aug. 2019. Tr. $26.65.
PreS-Gr 1 –Brightly colored pages with short sentences and color photographs grab young readers’ eyes with a perennially exciting topic. All titles focus on service and responsibility. Kings and Princes highlight military involvement, whereas Queens and Princesses focus on clothing and charities. Each book has a picture glossary, a “Life As” section, a table of contents and index, and a recommended reading section, which usually includes titles from this series (Real-Life Princesses recommended in Real-Life Princes) along with one other relevant title. While non-Western countries like Japan and Jordan are featured, the series skews Western. Queens has five pages devoted to Queen Elizabeth II. Critical thinking questions, which pull no punches, are listed throughout. There are no source notes provided, but photo credits are listed. ­VERDICT Though non-Western countries are featured, this series focuses more on Western monarchies. Purchase only if there is a high-demand for royal biographies.

Terp, Gail. Gladiators. ISBN 9781680728491.
––––. Knights. ISBN 9781680728507.
––––. Ninja. ISBN 9781680728514.
––––. Pirates. ISBN 9781680728521.
––––. Samurai. ISBN 9781680728538.
––––. Vikings. ISBN 9781680728545.
ea vol: 32p. (History’s Warriors). chart. chron. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Black Rabbit/Bolt. Aug. 2019. Tr. $32.80.
Gr 2-5 –Like a well-prepared tour guide, the author takes readers through the history, daily life, and culture of each type of warrior. Clearly written text combines with supporting illustrations to convey their similarities and differences. Each title includes the following: a map of the warrior’s sphere of influence, a visual of the warrior’s uniform and weapons, and a reflection of the warrior’s influence on current society. No source notes are provided, but photo credits are included along with age-appropriate, up-to-date books and websites. Though violence is discussed and depicted within each title, none of it is graphic or gratuitous. VERDICT These well-illustrated and well-written titles are recommended for libraries serving upper elementary and middle school readers.

 

UPPER MIDDLE SCHOOL TO HIGH SCHOOL

Davies, Monika. Photographs Throughout American History. ISBN 9781538240526.
Doyle, Abby Badach. Diaries and Autobiographies Throughout American History. ISBN 9781538240366.
Keppeler, Jill. Newspapers Throughout American History. ISBN 9781538240489.
Linde, Barbara. Artifacts Throughout American History. ISBN 9781538240328.
Rajczak, Michael. Landmarks Throughout American History. ISBN 9781538240403.
––––. Maps Throughout American History. ISBN 9781538240441.
ea vol: 32p. (Journey to the Past: Investigating Primary Sources). further reading. glossary. index. photos. Gareth Stevens. Aug. 2019. Tr. $26.60.
Gr 4-7 –Essays about what primary sources are and how they can be interpreted by current and future generations bookend content about specific types of primary sources. Using about two pages of text per piece and incorporating relevant images, the series’ authors highlight different primary sources, be they photographs, objects, or diaries, and provide good historical context for each. Connections and comparisons are also made with contemporary photographs. Native American tribes aren’t consistently identified when they are referenced, and some of the subjects are duplicated across titles. While no source notes are provided, the authors do list photo credits and suggest further reading and relevant and reputable websites. Critical-thinking questions are also interspersed throughout. VERDICT The few misses aside, this series does well engaging readers with primary sources from U.S. history.

Bankston, John. Hopi. ISBN 9781624694578.
––––. Shawnee. ISBN 9781624693168.
Orr, Tamra B. Chippewa (The Ojibwe). ISBN 9781624694554.
Wilson, Wayne L. Pueblo. ISBN 9781624694592.
––––. Shoshone. ISBN 9781624694615.
ea vol: 48p. (We Were Here First: The Native Americans). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Purple Toad. Jan. 2020. Tr. $29.95.
Gr 3-7 –A grainy image of a person from the featured tribe appears on the cover of each book, which begins with a narrative about a member of the tribe, and then moves into a chronological look at the tribe’s history and culture. The back matter includes works consulted, suggested books and websites, and a “Top Ten” about the tribe. Some of these “Top Ten” listings seem exploitative. One photograph in the Pueblo title mentions rules to be followed when observing dances and ceremonies, which is good; however, tribes, including the Pueblo, do note on their sites that photography of some tribal ceremonies is not permitted. The strongest titles in the series highlight current members of the tribe and talk about the tribes in the present tense more than the past. VERDICT Problematic content and uneven writing in a few of the titles make this series less appealing.

Bryan, Bethany. Catastrophes in the Twenty-First Century. ISBN 9781682826010.
Gagne, Tammy. Pop Culture and Entertainment in the Twenty-First Century. ISBN 9781682826027.
Herschbach, Elisabeth. Science and Technology in the Twenty-First Century. ISBN 9781682826058.
Lawrence, Blythe. Social Change in the Twenty-First Century. ISBN 9781682826072.
Noren, Carolyn. War and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. ISBN 9781682826096.
ea vol: 80p. (Defining Events of the Twenty-First Century). chron. further reading. index. notes. photos. websites. ReferencePoint. Aug. 2019. Tr. $30.95.
Gr 7 Up –Engaging writing with up-to-date content informs readers about topics as ­varied as Black Lives Matter, genetic modification, and natural disasters. Each title has an opening and closing essay to frame the content presented, and the authors contextualize events and movements well. Images are relevant and appropriately captioned, but not all graphs are credited. Photography credits are listed in the back matter. Source notes exist for quoted material only, which is mostly secondary sources. A liberal perspective comes through in one of the titles, which is reflected in the source notes and recommended websites. ­VERDICT Overall, these titles provide current information about topics in the news and on readers’ screens, but libraries may want to pair them with other series like “Opposing Viewpoints” to give readers additional perspectives.

Faust, Daniel R. The Real Story Behind the Age of Exploration. ISBN 9781538343425.
––––. The Real Story Behind the Wild West. ISBN 9781538343463.
Honders, Christine. The Real Story Behind the Thirteen Colonies. ISBN 9781538343456.
Idzikowski, Lisa. The Real Story Behind the Civil War. ISBN 9781538343449.
Machajewski, Sarah. The Real Story Behind U.S. Treaties with Native Americans. ISBN 9781538343470.
Morlock, Rachael. The Real Story Behind the Founding Fathers. ISBN 9781538343432.
ea vol: 32p. (The Real Story: Debunking History). glossary. index. photos. websites. Rosen/PowerKids. Aug. 2019. Tr. $26.25.
Gr 4-7 –Using a conversational, skeptical tone, authors challenge readers to rethink the veracity of U.S. history. Within a chronological framework, each author presents and dispels information that readers may have heard or read (e.g., the reaction of the Indigenous populations to explorers and colonists). Titles are organized well, and the images selected support the texts. The words Native and Indigenous are not capitalized consistently. Ironically, no source notes, citations, or recommended reading is provided in any title, despite quotes, statistics, and other facts being presented. Authors inconsistently provide dates for quoted items. A link to Rosen’s site that has resources is listed for readers to access. VERDICT In a series so focused, the authors missed the mark by neglecting to cite sources in the text or in a bibliography.

Harris, Duchess & Tammy Gagne. The Birth of Hip-Hop. ISBN 9781532118692.
Harris, Duchess & Marne Ventura. Booker T. Washington: Leader and Educator. ISBN 9781532118708.
––––. Carol Moseley Braun: Politician and Leader. ISBN 9781532118715.
––––. Fannie Lou Hamer: Civil Rights Activist. ISBN 9781532118722.
Harris, Duchess & Bonnie Hinman. The Freedmen’s Bureau. ISBN 9781532118739.
Harris, Duchess & Kate Conley. The Great Migration. ISBN 9781532118746.
Harris, Duchess & Samantha S. Bell. Harriet Robinson Scott: From the Frontier to Freedom. ISBN 9781532118753.
––––. Ida Wells: Journalist and Activist. ISBN 9781532118760.
––––. Loving v. Virginia. ISBN 9781532118777.
––––. Richard Wright: Author and World ­Traveler. ISBN 9781532118784.
––––. The Thirteenth Amendment and Its ­Legacy. ISBN 9781532118791.
Harris, Duchess & A.R. Carser. The Tulsa Race Riot. ISBN 9781532118807.
ea vol: 48p. (Freedom’s Promise). chron. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO/Core Library. Aug. 2019. Tr. $32.79.
Gr 4-8 –In a welcoming tone, the authors begin each title with a unique essay that both introduces the subject of the book and piques readers’ interest to continue reading. Short chapters, sidebars with a mix of quotes from primary sources or supplementary secondary source content, a fast facts chronology, a glossary, and relevant color or black-and-white photographs make up each title. Critical-thinking questions, often paired with primary source excerpts, feature prominently. Graphs are presented in each book, but the data for those graphs is generally not listed. No bibliography exists in any title either, though the authors cite material included in sidebars and list photo credits for each title. A further reading section at the end of each book generally lists two young adult titles, often published by ABDO. ­VERDICT The lack of a bibliography is a misstep, but this series is strong in its content. A good addition for libraries serving teens.

Lewis, Mark K. Cholera: How the Blue Death Changed History. ISBN 9781543572384.
––––. Ebola: How a Viral Fever Changed History. ISBN 9781543572391.
––––. Measles: How a Contagious Rash Changed History. ISBN 9781543572407.
––––. Tuberculosis: How the White Death Changed History. ISBN 9781543572414.
ea vol: 32p. (Infected!). further reading. glossary. index. photos. Capstone. Aug. 2019. Tr. $28.65.
Gr 3-8 –This highly informative and relevant series engages from beginning to end and educates readers not only about history and culture but also about science. Within the four titles, readers learn about the causes and symptoms of each contagious disease, how it spreads and affects the global community, and what measures scientists and physicians take to treat and prevent outbreaks. Color photographs complement the text and allow readers to see how complicated preventing and treating the diseases can be. No bibliography or source notes exist, but an excellent list of recommended books and websites is in each title’s back matter. VERDICT This is highly recommended for all collections because of its relevance and cross-curricular content.

Loh-Hagan, Virginia. Girl Activists. ISBN 9781534147911.
––––. Girl Artists. ISBN 9781534147881.
––––. Girl Bosses. ISBN 9781534147928.
––––. Girl Innovators. ISBN 9781534147904.
––––. Girl Leaders. ISBN 9781534147898.
––––. Girl Scientists. ISBN 9781534147935.
––––. Girl Spies. ISBN 9781534147942.
––––. Girl Warriors. ISBN 9781534147874.
ea vol: 32p. (History’s Yearbook). glossary. illus. index. Cherry Lake/45th Parallel. Aug. 2019. Tr. $29.93.
Gr 4-8 –Readers may expect to find informative content within these collective biographies. Brief, one-page texts contain biographical information and an accompanying photograph or illustration of the woman highlighted when available. In addition to the biographies, each title has back matter that includes a relevant social club readers can join, suggested reading material and websites, and additional tidbits related to the subject. While an abundance of facts is presented in each title, the delivery of the information falls short. Staccato sentences (“She studied art on the streets. She went to art school. But she didn’t like it”), unsupported claims (“She may be England’s first biracial queen”), and unorganized paragraphs annoy and distract readers. Photography credits are listed, but no source notes or bibliography exist. VERDICT Poor writing distracts too much, making these titles less enjoyable for readers of any age.

Oachs, Emily Rose. The Cave of Altamira. ISBN 9781644870662.
––––. King Tut’s Tomb. ISBN 9781644870679.
––––. The Palace of Knossos. ISBN 9781644870686.
––––. Pompeii. ISBN 9781644870693.
––––. The Terra-Cotta Army. ISBN 9781644870709.
––––. The Titanic. ISBN 9781644870716.
ea vol: 24p. (Digging Up the Past). chron. glossary. index. maps. Bellwether. Aug. 2019. lib. ed. $19.95.
Gr 3-7 –Inviting texts paired with appropriate images create this approachable series. The author’s use of the second person and photographs or paintings as the background for each page draws readers in, and she shows an appreciation for her audience with the details she highlights. Graphs, a time line of significant events, plus a piece on how technology or ingenuity impact restoration work are well done. However, the placement of the time line in the middle of each title is unsuccessful because it presents material not yet covered. Some of the maps showing the location of sites are too small to read, and images generally aren’t captioned. Notable people or items from the photographs are often identified. Back matter includes photograph credits, a recommended reading list, and instructions for accessing a curated website. VERDICT Even with its misses, this series conveys facts about each site in a way that encourages further exploration.

Spilsbury, Louise. The Ancient Chinese: Gruesome Graves and Evil Emperors. ISBN 9781502648242.
––––. The Ancient Egyptians: Burials and Mummies. ISBN 9781502648280.
––––. The Aztecs: Blood and Sacrifice. ISBN 9781502648327.
––––. The Maya: Bloodletting and Sacrifice. ISBN 9781502648365.
––––. The Romans: Gladiators and Blood Sports. ISBN 9781502648419.
––––. The Vikings: Raids and War. ISBN 9781502648457.
ea vol: 48p. (History’s Horror Stories). further reading. glossary. index. photos. Cavendish Square. Aug. 2019. Tr. $31.36.
Gr 5-8 –A high gross-out factor is the biggest selling point of these titles, and readers get the ickiest and almost unbelievable bits of information in a compact format. In short chapters, facts about different cultural traditions, like cooking eggs in urine, are interspersed with graphic descriptions of punishments, events, and practices (including an explanation of foot binding in The Ancient Chinese). The generous use of adjectives like terrible, gruesome, and bloody, further immerses readers in the texts. Unfortunately, words missing from sentences, no source notes, and the inconsistent definition of words in context or within the glossary make this series less appealing. The back matter does include a list of recommended books and websites that are age-appropriate. VERDICT Purchase where there is a high demand for series like You Wouldn’t Want to Be. . . .


Engaging, relevant content reigns this season, and readers of all ages can find something to pique their interest and inform them in these series. “Infected!” (Capstone) educates readers in a way that make the topics interesting, and the authors connect different subject disciplines in a seamless way, making it the stand out series of the season. “History’s Warriors” (Black Rabbit/Bolt) is notable for its well-organized text and the use of drawings and images to transport readers back in time. Educators and librarians may enjoy having critical thinking questions and embedded content to help support their instruction. Unfortunately, while many publishers include supplemental resources, they do not consistently provide bibliographies or source notes. They miss an opportunity to give readers an example of how to conduct research and present it to an audience.

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