A thoughtful, engaging history for intermediate students interested in Africa.

READ REVIEW

Mansa Musa and the Empire of Mali

Oliver’s debut, about one of West Africa’s most powerful and charismatic leaders, delivers a vibrant mix of history and historical fiction for young adults.

The book introduces the medieval empire of Mali with several short narrative essays on trans-Atlantic exploration, trade and mining and soon narrows its focus to the compelling life story of the emperor Mansa Musa, who ruled Mali in the early 1300s. Oliver shows how Musa gained influence while making a lavish, politically important trip to Mecca, and his deft explanation of how Musa crossed the vast Sahara Desert briefly but skillfully conveys the difficulty of the lengthy voyage. This enjoyable work smoothly blends historical text with memorable anecdotes from primary and secondary sources, photos and sketches of replicas of ancient and medieval African art, and well-drawn maps. The book moves at a fast pace, and the author’s clear, straightforward style is likely to appeal to young adults. He easily switches between topics, discussing history (how Musa gained recognition in Egypt and North Africa), religion (how Islam shaped Musa and his empire), architecture (the methods of construction for Malian mud-brick buildings) and fables (the legend of the Malian “gold plant”). However, Oliver always strives for historical accuracy; even his fictional account of a young sandal maker who travels to Niani’s great market contains period-appropriate language and scenery. The book also includes a lengthy glossary that is amply illustrated with drawings and photographs of West African boats and buildings. The work’s one shortcoming is its abrupt ending after Musa returns home; it lacks a thorough explanation as to how and why the empire of Mali eventually dissolved.

A thoughtful, engaging history for intermediate students interested in Africa.

Pub Date: March 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1468053548

Page Count: 128

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An excellent work of children’s nonfiction that just may inspire the next Chuck Yeager.

Chuck Yeager Goes Supersonic

AN ACTION-PACKED, TRUE FLYING ADVENTURE

This straightforward biography engages young readers’ imaginations, respects their intelligence and takes them along on an exciting, real-life adventure.

From Chuck Yeager’s childhood in the Depression, through his experience in World War II, flight school and finally his chance to pilot the first supersonic flight, this debut children’s book brings his biography to life and includes a science lesson for eager young minds, as well. Biermann expertly weaves vignettes from Yeager’s life—like the time he plowed a test plane through a chicken coop—into the narrative, creating a tale with a cinematic, easy-to-follow rhythm. These anecdotes illustrate Yeager’s character in a natural, show-don’t-tell fashion. Biermann’s explanation of the science behind sound waves, the sound barrier and supersonic flight is so clear and memorable, it’s sure to stick with readers well into their adulthood. (Some adults who read this to kids will be relieved to have this burden lifted from them, so they don’t have to sputter out shaky explanations themselves.) While this story may inspire a lifelong interest in science, it’s unlikely to inspire a lifelong love of poetic language. From the very first paragraph—“Chuck Yeager loved to fly airplanes. He loved to fly high. He loved to fly fast.”—the language is a bit unadorned. But it is crystal clear, precise and geared with almost mathematical accuracy to a young elementary reading level. Science- and adventure-minded readers who are just here for the sonic boom won’t care that the book reads more like a technical manual than poetry. The illustrations are of a piece with the language: precise down to the buttons and badges on Yeager’s flight suit but flat and stylized, reminiscent of old-school film strips. And, like the language, while the illustrations are not inspiring or beautiful, they are perfectly suited to the book’s likely audience, who will probably be scrutinizing the cockpit controls.

An excellent work of children’s nonfiction that just may inspire the next Chuck Yeager.

Pub Date: Dec. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1480276321

Page Count: 48

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson’s core that accounts for so much of his...

THOMAS JEFFERSON

THE ART OF POWER

A Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer lauds the political genius of Thomas Jefferson.

As a citizen, Jefferson became a central leader in America’s rebellion against the world’s greatest empire. As a diplomat, he mentored a similar revolution in France. As president, he doubled the size of the United States without firing a shot and established a political dynasty that stretched over four decades. These achievements and many more, Time contributing editor Meacham (American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, 2008, etc.) smoothly argues, would have been impossible if the endlessly complicated Jefferson were merely the dreamy, impractical philosopher king his detractors imagined. His portrait of our most enigmatic president intentionally highlights career episodes that illustrate Jefferson’s penchant for balancing competing interests and for compromises that, nevertheless, advanced his own political goals. Born to the Virginia aristocracy, Jefferson effectively disguised his drive for control, charming foes and enlisting allies to conduct battles on his behalf. As he accumulated power, he exercised it ruthlessly, often deviating from the ideals of limited government he had previously—and eternally—articulated. Stronger than any commitment to abstract principle, the impulse for pragmatic political maneuvering, Meacham insists, always predominated. With an insatiable hunger for information, a talent for improvisation and a desire for greatness, Jefferson coolly calculated political realities—see his midlife abandonment of any effort to abolish slavery—and, more frequently than not, emerged from struggles with opponents routed and his own authority enhanced. Through his thinking and writing, we’ve long appreciated Jefferson’s lifelong devotion to “the survival and success of democratic republicanism in America,” but Meacham’s treatment reminds us of the flesh-and-blood politician, the man of action who masterfully bent the real world in the direction of his ideals.

An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson’s core that accounts for so much of his political success.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6766-4

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more