Celebrate Columbus Day
Born in 1451, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus never accomplished his original goal--to find a western ocean route to Asia. What he did do however was open up the Americas to the Age of Discovery by leading four expeditions to the New World. On October 12, 2009 we will celebrate the anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. While Columbus Day was proclaimed by President Nixon to be a federal holiday in 1971, the first recorded celebration took place in New York City on October 12, 1792. One hundred years later, in honor of the 400th anniversary of that first voyage, Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance (although it has undergone four modifications since.)
Finding books about Columbus can be a somewhat daunting task. Today it tends to mean looking for comprehensive and politically correct titles. There is also endless potential to broaden this topic to include study on the indigenous people of the Americas, explorers such as John Cabot and Leif Ericson, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and the European Age of Discovery.
Studying this controversial figure can be infinitely more interesting than “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Visit the following web sites for more information:
Contributor: Emily Griffin
Animals Christopher Columbus Saw
The text of this book takes young readers and listeners along the journey Columbus made to the New World and introduces them to the animals and other creatures he met along the way. Readers meet birds that flew alongside the ships, cats and rats that lived on the ships, bugs that infested the stored food on the ships, and shipworms that attacked the ships. Once Columbus and his men made landfall, they met lizards, parrots, and iguanas. A coral reef, really a large group of animals called coral polyps, sank the Santa Maria off the shore, so Columbus and his men carried the supplies aboard the other ship. Columbus founded a colony on Espanola. On the trip home, the Nina’s crew caught a huge shark. Once they returned to Spain, Columbus and his crew were greeted by birds and animals from his native land, as well as the King and Queen. The information is engagingly presented; however, the dark and detailed background makes it very difficult to read the small print on the page. 2008, Chronicle Books, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99. Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger (Children's Literature).
Before Columbus: Early Voyages to the Americas
Almost every child in this country can tell you that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But what happened before that? Most people, regardless of age, have not given that ocean exploration much, if any, thought. The Phoenicians? The Welsh? The Chinese? Africans? The idea of any of those peoples as possible/probable explorers of the Americas would boggle most people’s minds. The author very adequately explores all those--and much more--beautifully disrupting the predominant Caucasian/Christian slant to history taught in this country. This book is unique in both its content and its format. Given the content, it is the kind of book that even a quasi-history geek would relish. Teachers will find teaching points on every page: material for point-counterpoint discussions, papers, projects, and even plays. The format is both good and bad. The target audience of twelve to eighteen-year-olds is more used to Manga than to the picture book format, so the style may be a turn-off to some potential readers. And yet, the format allows for a smooth flow of information that will cause the reader to want turn the page to see what is next. The only other drawback is the price point. It is beyond what a child would buy for him/herself or what many grandparents would pay for a gift. I wish this book had been available when I was in middle school. 2008, Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner, Ages 12 up, $30.60. Reviewer: Mary Ashcliffe (Children's Literature).
Christopher Columbus: The Voyage That Changed the World
Emma Carlson Berne
Visionary or madman? Readers of this addition to the “Sterling Biographies” series will decide for themselves as they follow the famous man from his humble beginnings to his ignoble end. Born in Italy to a family of weavers, Christopher left the family trade at fourteen to pursue a life at sea. After surviving a shipwreck in his twenties, he lived in Portugal and owned a mapmaking and bookselling business. During this time, Columbus developed his plan to find the East by sailing west. After the king of Portugal refused to sponsor the ambitious voyage, Columbus spent eight years petitioning King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. In total, they financed four voyages for the exploration of the “New World.” By the time a sizeable vein of gold was discovered, Columbus had not only failed to discover the Indies, he had poorly managed the island colonies he had discovered. Widespread disease and violence decimated the native populations, and the riches he had promised his sponsors were too late in coming. He returned to Spain in chains and lived the remainder of his days writing about his mistreatment. This book differs from most studies of the man who “discovered” South America, the islands of the Caribbean, Jamaica, and Cuba in that it does not gloss over his extermination of native peoples, animals, and plant species as he brought exotic European flora and fauna with him, not to mention diseases. Emma Carlson Berne’s use of primary source materials created by Columbus, his son, and other biographers of the time period brings to light the thoughts and emotions of a man whose grand schemes changed the world. Her balanced treatment of the subject, plus a variety of illustrations, one-page, special-focus articles, a time line, glossary, extensive bibliography, and an index make this a valuable addition to school and public libraries. 2008, Sterling Publishing, Ages 9 to 12, $16.95. Reviewer: Keri Collins Lewis (Children's Literature).
Gerry Bailey and Karen Foster
Illustrated by Leighton Noyes and Karen Radford
Born in Genoa, Columbus became a sailor and planned an expedition to get to the eastern lands--a quick route to Asia or the Indies. Life was not easy and at times he was very poor while at others life was not so bad. At the age of twenty-five he was an experienced seaman--married into a good family with a wife who made her father’s charts and others documents available to him. Unfortunately, she died shortly after the birth of their son Diego. Columbus needed financial backing for his proposed expeditions. He had no success in Lisbon with King John so he went to Spain to present his proposal to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. In addition to money, Columbus made many other demands for his expedition and finally they were met. It was difficult getting a crew because of the fear of the unknown and the hard life aboard a ship, where there was little food, cramped quarters and plenty of work. He made several voyages, and as we know they were mainly to the Caribbean. He returned to Europe in disgrace, but then he traveled back to the Caribbean brought some riches and did not die in poverty. The final page debunks many of the myths and legends and presents the facts known about Columbus. This series, “Stories of Great People,” is set up with a sister and brother team (Digby and Hannah) who visit the Knicknack Market and its vendors. One of them, Mr. Rummage, has a “disorderly jumble of things”--all of which fascinate Digby. These objects serve as the lead in to a story about a famous person. The factual accounts are interspersed with reactions from the kids and the book is liberally illustrated. It has a table of contents, an index, a brief glossary and an introduction to the cast of characters. The design and format are more likely to get kids reading than are most biographies for this age group. 2008, Crabtree Publishing Company, Ages 8 to 12, $29.27 and $9.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children's Literature).
Columbus: Opening Up the New World
This is the latest book in the “Great Explorers of the World” series. It explains Columbus’ family background and how he came to be a sailor and an explorer. It explains how Columbus learned about the Canaries current and other facts that helped him develop the belief that he could sail to India. Columbus presented his proposition to many people, and he met many frustrating obstacles. In order to explain why Ferdinand and Isabella finally granted his request, Feinstein explains the challenges posed by the Spanish Muslims to the monarchs. Columbus’ first voyage is detailed, including his concern about mutiny and his changes to the sailing logs. The book explains how he kept two logs, one with the actual distance traveled and another that listed shorter mileage, so that the sailors would not become scared. The book does not withhold the fact that Columbus enslaved some of the Native Americans he found. It also details his arrest, his loss of titles and, later, the reinstatement of his wealth. Finally, the book explains why his discovery is still important to us today. The back of the book provides curious readers with additional resources from which they can learn more. This well-written, picture-laden book is a must-have for libraries. 2010, Enslow Publishers, Ages 11 up, $31.93. Reviewer: Jennifer Mitchell (Children’s Literature).
Isabel Saves the Prince: Based on a True Story of Isabel I of Spain
Illustrated by Nonna Aleshina
Princess Isabel lived away from court after her father died and his half-brother King Henry inherited the throne. Suddenly at the age of ten she and her younger brother Alfonso are summoned to move to Madrid to live in the King’s Court. Isabel finds it distasteful, since the king is living a life of debauchery and she has been raised as a quiet and firmly Catholic lady. Heeding the words of her abuela, Isabel works to protect her brother from court intrigues and does manage to save his life in the incident reported in the book. The ending explains what happened to this young princess, how she eventually married and sponsored the expedition of Christopher Columbus, but it does not really do an adequate job explaining what it was like for non-Catholics living in Spain. Interestingly this young princess is also depicted as having read hair, just like Holub’s book about Elizabeth I of England. A part of the “Ready-to-Read” series this Level 3 book is based on a true story of Isabel I of Spain. 2007, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, Ages 6 to 8, $3.99. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children's Literature).
Measuring the Earth: Eratosthenes and His Celestial Geometry
Eratosthenes, the Librarian Who Measured the Earth, in the Kathryn Lasky title by that name, is all that and more. The mathematician known as the Father of Geography was a servant to the Ptolemys of Egypt, where as director of the library at Alexandria he influenced the collecting of manuscripts while also using the collection to write his own treatise on geography, Geographia. This treatise would influence people for centuries to come. Had Columbus paid closer attention to it rather than some of the other writings he read, that trip in the 15th century might well have been without the drama of the unknown. He would have known that he had arrived in a New World rather than thinking he was in the Far East. Gow’s biography follows the format for series biographies: introduction to the subject, background and early life, contact with other great thinkers of his time--imagine the conversations between Archimedes and Eratosthenes--explanation of how he measured the Earth (a question always asked by younger students) without actually traveling around it, work in mathematics, and some lesser known aspects of his life. Eratosthenes also wrote poems and plays, not unusual for Greeks of his time, but not often mentioned. And as with many other Greeks, he also studied the stars. Gow provides this information for readers and gives activities readers can use to emulate experiments by Eratosthenes. Backmatter includes a timeline, chapter notes, glossary, suggestions for further reading, websites, and index. Readable text with some illustrations. While not exceptional writing the subject himself is interesting. 2010, Enslow Publishers, Ages 12 up, $31.93. Reviewer: Leslie Greaves Radloff (Children's Literature).
The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure
The first book in the “Alec Flint, Super Sleuth” series gives readers a lot to look forward to. Alec Flint’s dad might be a police officer, but Alec wants to be a super sleuth. When a robbery occurs at the local museum and the new Christopher Columbus exhibit goes missing, Alec is determined to investigate. But when Alec teams up with the new girl in his class, Gina Rossi, he finds out she has an investigation of her own--their art teacher has disappeared just days before her wedding. Can Alec and Gina solve both mysteries, or are they really only trying to solve one? In this fun, exciting detective story, young mystery fans get the chance to solve the crime along with the Alec and Gina and even learn a bit about Christopher Columbus along the way. Though the series focuses on Alec, Gina is more than just a sidekick, and both children are smart and brave. A great pick for school and classroom libraries, this would be a great book to feature around Columbus Day for a bit of a different take on the sailor. 2008, Orchard Books/Scholastic, Ages 7 to 12, $15.99. Reviewer: Kathleen Foucart (Children's Literature).
The Pledge of Allegiance
Illustrated by Matthew Skeens
Norman Pearl creates yet another enticing introduction to an important American symbol with this work about the Pledge of Allegiance. Francis Bellamy, the author of the pledge, narrates the story of its conception. Bellamy, who worked for a magazine called The Youth’s Companion, wrote the pledge so that students around the country would have something to recite on the 400th anniversary of Columbus sailing to America. The pledge, which originally did not include the phrases “under God” and “the flag of the United States of America,” quickly became a regular part of the school day. Pearl breaks down what several of the terms in the pledge mean, including justice, allegiance, and republic. The posture one should have when saying the pledge is covered as well. The amount of facial expression Matthew Skeens achieves with his edgy, geometric style is surprising. The cross-section of Americans represented is indicative of the more accurate histories that authors and illustrators are creating now. Like the rest of the books in the “American Symbols” series, the author has included a glossary, facts, and a list of additional resources. This book is perfect for beginner historians. 2007, Picture Window, Ages 5 to 9, $23.93. Reviewer: Kristy Lyn Sutorius (Children's Literature).
What Columbus Found: It Was Orange, It Was Round
Illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye
This simple rhyming text is witty and engaging. It tells that Christopher Columbus, in 1492, receives funding from the queen of Spain, sails for India and ends up in America. While there he discovers, among other things, a new vegetable. He takes his discovery back to Spain in what is described as a “lumpy, bumpy trip.” Then he plants the seeds and waits. Middle of the book pages are intriguing as they keep the reader turning pages to find out what will come from the growing seeds. An “ah-ha” feeling is achieved when the reader learns that the final products are pumpkins. The last few pages stress how pumpkins are used and that readers can remember where they first were found. The book’s simple sentences in big print and the easy flowing rhyme allow readers to be successful with independent reading. Fun illustrations add to the story and provide clues to decoding. This is a Level 1 book in the “Ready-to-Read” series. 2007, Aladdin Paperbacks/Simon & Schuster, Ages 4 to 8, $3.99. Reviewer: Nancy Garhan Attebury (Children's Literature).
Who Discovered America?
Illustrated by Howie Woo
This fascinating and eye-opening look at the so-called discovery of North America is a must for both the home and the classroom. Wyatt gives many alternative views to the popular Columbus belief. She explores the Portugese claim that Corte-Real arrived in Newfoundland twenty years before Columbus. She considers archeological digs in Nova Scotia which indicate that the Chinese may have settled in the New World almost a hundred years before Columbus’ arrival. She notes that there are even artifacts suggesting that the Welsh or Scots made it to Nova Scotia and the New England states 100 to 300 years before the famous 1492 date. We already know of a Viking settlement in Newfoundland dating from about the year 1000, so it is quite possible that others made it to America before Columbus. The author also explains how earlier peoples walked across the land bridge from Asia to the Americas, and how they might have sailed a coastal route from Asia to the Americas. Throughout the text, appealing pictures and sidebars explain concepts such as genetic tracking, skull morphology, archeological techniques, and map-making. A timeline, a glossary and an index make the book useful for research. 2008, Kids Can Press, Ages 8 to 12, $17.95. Reviewer: Kathryn Erskine (Children's Literature).
To view a Columbus Day feature from a previous year, click here
To stay up to date on new books on this topic, consider subscribing to The Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. For your free trial, click here.
If you're interested in reviewing children's and young adult books, then send a resume and writing sample to firstname.lastname@example.org.