The real story of Columbus and his discoveries is such a good one, I can’t imagine why textbooks keep feeding kids the insipid myths that omit most of the action and drama of the truth. Well, actually I can imagine; the truth certainly doesn’t cast the “discoverer” of America and his crew in a very good light, but I don’t know why that fact also can’t be used as teaching material.
Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids is part of a large series of similar books from the Chicago Review Press, and it is so good I went out and got some others! This one tells the story of Columbus and his voyages in depth, and includes enough of a glimpse of the appalling treatment of the natives and the introduction of slavery to give kids an idea about what really happened. It doesn’t provide a lot of gory details though, especially with respect to how the females were used by the crew, presumably because of it being a book for kids.
The author tries to be even-handed. He is full of praise for the navigational skills of Columbus. But he also reveals just how badly used the Arawak Indians were, and how Columbus tricked them into continuing to provide him and his men with food in spite of the genocide being carried out on their people.
But this is not just a story about Columbus and his voyages. The author includes a lot of ancillary material that ties the history to other subject areas, such as math, social studies, and science. There is a chapter, for instance, on The Columbian Exchange, in which readers learn about the interchange of plants, animals, cultures, populations, diseases and ideas between the Old and New Worlds that began with Columbus (hence the name). A number of maps show the routes of the voyages, as well as demonstrate the state of geographical knowledge at the time.
Each of these books includes 21 activities that help expand the impact of the story. The Columbus book, for example, incorporates projects such as how to make a compass (also explaining how it works), how to simulate a hurricane, how to make a sundial, and how to make hardtack. In addition to footnotes and sources, the back of the book has an annotated list of websites for additional information and a glossary.
Evaluation: This book is outstanding. Besides the entertaining narration of the main story, there are plenty of photos and graphics and sidebars and boxes that mix it up and keep it interesting. I made the mistake of letting a 9 and 11 year old see this book before I could review it, and had to wrestle them so I could keep it for another week.
Published by the Chicago Review Press, 2013.