With new historical narratives complicating the period for adults, this well-meant picture book comes off as timid rather...

A SPY CALLED JAMES

THE TRUE STORY OF JAMES LAFAYETTE, REVOLUTIONARY WAR DOUBLE AGENT

Built from an exhaustive search of a mostly unwritten history, Rockwell’s account recasts the American Revolution from the experience of one of the courageous thousands who fought to gain independence from British rule—an independence that did not equate to freedom for the enslaved black population.

While it is popularly known that many more Africans fought alongside the British than the patriots, here Rockwell introduces James, who, upon hearing that an enslaved man could gain his freedom by fighting for the Colonies, volunteers and spies on Gen. Cornwallis. The intelligence James gathers is critical to the decisive American victory at Yorktown, yet freedom is stalled until the Marquis de Lafayette demands James’ manumission, leading to James’ choice of surname as the text proclaims him “finally free!” However, the author’s note reminds readers that the legal freedom of the entire enslaved black population in the United States stands almost a century and another war away. A narrative that is deserving of much nuance (the free James Lafayette may have become a slave owner himself, the author’s note also informs readers) goes without much critical examination, and the narrow records on which it was built provide more insight about the decisions of those around him than the man himself. Readers are left with a story that tries to honor the role African-Americans played in the American Revolution while clinging to a linear history of the United States as always moving forward.

With new historical narratives complicating the period for adults, this well-meant picture book comes off as timid rather than disruptive, leaving children with the usual incomplete story, albeit with an African-American protagonist. (further reading) (Informational picture book. 7-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4677-4933-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Fold down the drawbridge and step through. Mind the mucky patches.

LIFT, LOOK, AND LEARN CASTLE

UNCOVER THE SECRETS OF A MEDIEVAL FORTRESS

Flurries of small-to-tiny flaps give good cause to linger at each stop on this buttery-to-battlements castle tour.

It’s not all typical 13th-century feasting and fighting on display either, as opening teasers warn of 16 anachronistic items (among them a pair of boxer shorts), a lost treasure and a spy—or maybe ghost—to spot along the way. Castle de Chevalier comes equipped with a lord and lady, mail-clad men at arms and servants of diverse sorts. There’s also a well-stocked torture chamber/dungeon and, as revealed in cutaway views and beneath the diminutive die-cut flaps, thriving populations of bats, rats and spiders…not to mention the occasional detached head. The visit ends with a tournament, where tents, spectators and jousting knights can be viewed in situ or rearranged to suit with separate punch-out versions. Except for an arrant disconnect on the chapel spread, Pipe’s flippant commentary supplies tolerable if rudimentary bits of plot and explication. Though not so maniacally awash in microbusiness as the illustrations in Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Sections: Castle (written by Richard Platt, 1994), Taylord’s bustling cartoon scenes may well require a magnifying glass to make out all the detail. The same applies to the cutaways and Victorian-era rooms in the simultaneously published Lift, Look, and Learn Doll’s House.

Fold down the drawbridge and step through. Mind the mucky patches. (Informational novelty. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-78312-081-9

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Carlton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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Bloodthirsty readers may be a little disappointed by these quick stabs at high-interest, if extinct, occupations.

HOW TO LIVE LIKE A VIKING WARRIOR

From the How to Live Like... series

A 10th-century Norwegian jarl’s son lays out the training, gear, and attitude requisite for a proper Viking life (and death).

Young Olaf Sharpaxe is visibly puny next to the exaggeratedly brawny brutes making up the rest of his father’s “hird” (warrior band) in Epelbaum’s cartoon illustrations but sports a comically crazed expression to make up for it. He describes the hard training, the camaraderie, how to choose the best weapons and armor, and life in the jarl’s hall. Following a quick description of a longship, he also supplies step-by-step directions for launching a raid, taking spoils, and, following his father’s death from wounds, how to bury a Viking chief. All of this, plus thumbnail accounts of renowned Viking warriors, Valhalla, and Ragnarok are capped by “Ten Vicious Viking Facts” to take away. For all the ferocity and mighty sword strokes in the pictures, though, there is nary a drop of spilled blood to be seen, and even in the narrative, violence is downplayed: brutal warrior Erik Bloodaxe “was lucky enough to have good skalds (poets) to put a better spin on his dubious deeds.” The co-published How to Live Like a Roman Gladiator is likewise all thrilling posturing with implicit, never explicit, gore.

Bloodthirsty readers may be a little disappointed by these quick stabs at high-interest, if extinct, occupations. (index) (Nonfiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4677-7213-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Hungry Tomato/Lerner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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