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Themed Reviews

Celebrate Columbus Day

   Monday, October 10, 2011 is Columbus Day. A federal holiday since 1937—and celebrated since the 18th century—Columbus Day commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World in 1492. The Italian explorer set off on his voyage two months prior, supported by the Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Intending to go to China, India, and other parts of Asia, Columbus actually landed in the Bahamas and thus became the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings colonized the northern territories of Greenland and Newfoundland.

   Believing Cuba to be China, Columbus established the first Spanish colony in the Americas and returned to Spain bearing gold, spices, and other local products. Before his death in 1506, Columbus returned to the area several more times, but it was not until his third voyage that he realized he had discovered a continent previously unknown to Europeans—and not in fact, Asia.

   Columbus Day is an excellent opportunity to learn about influential figures during this Age of Discovery and to discuss popular beliefs held by people at that time, such as the notion that Europeans did not know the Pacific Ocean existed. Browse the selections below for recent books about Christopher Columbus and this period in time.

To learn more about the history of Columbus and how Columbus Day evolved visit:

And for further resources and activities visit:

Contributor: Emily Griffin



Colin Hynson
   The familiar rhyme says that "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" but in reality the story is far more complicated. The Italian Christopher Columbus made four voyages to the New World, served as a rather incompetent colonial governor, and was arrested by the Spanish government. Beyond these issues, Columbus was but one of a number of Renaissance explorers who came to the New World hoping to find a pathway to riches. Sadly, in most cases those voyages of exploration resulted in death to the fortune hunters and devastation to the native peoples whom they "discovered." In this volume of the illustrated "The History of Exploration" series, youngsters will encounter not only Columbus but also several other explorers of that Age of Discovery. In each case the author of this informative book provides a brief contextual highlight and enriches that content with bits and pieces of related information and fascinating detail. In the end, readers come away with an intriguing knowledge base and revealing historical anecdotes that amplify their understanding of both Columbus and the age in which he lived. 2010, Black Rabbit Books, $32.80. Ages 11 up. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781848983052

Columbus Day
Molly Aloian
   Part of a series "Celebrations in My World" of books that explain celebrations around the world, this book explores Columbus Day. After introducing Columbus Day, Aloian goes back to the source of the holiday: the birth and life of Christopher Columbus. After explaining where he came from and how he came to be an explorer, the author describes his most famous journey, including the names of his ships and his treatment of the native peoples that he encountered. From there, the text addresses the different ways the holiday is celebrated. The book uses large print and both photography and art to convey its message. There is a depiction of Columbus landing in America. The photographs show the modern celebrations of the day. While the celebration of Columbus Day by eating pizza, seems a little farfetched, the book does redeem itself by presenting celebrations in Central America. This variety may offer readers some new and interesting information about the celebration of Columbus Day. Also interesting are the "Did You Know?" facts along the bottom of the pages. These cannot be melded into the "story" within the book, but are still interesting related facts. Aloian's book is a good introduction to a major historical event, and s such it can serve to challenge readers to undertake research and learn more. Also included are a table of contents, a glossary, and an index. 2010, Crabtree Publishing, $26.60 and $8.95. Ages 7 to 10. Reviewer: Melissa Rife (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780778747789

Columbus Reaches the New World
Valerie Bodden
   School children learn very early about the brave explorer, Christopher Columbus, who sailed across the ocean to the land that became "the Americas." However, as those same students grow older and learn more about these events, it becomes clear that many of the people Columbus sought to discover did not feel that they needed to be discovered. When the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria arrived, they brought trinkets to trade with the natives; but they also brought unfamiliar diseases which decimated the native populations within the first few years following the landing. History teaches that each event in our lives can be viewed from various perspectives and that we should be open to the views of others. The islanders that Columbusmet that October morning had much to gain and much to lose as a result of this encounter. Bodden gives the reader all of the typical facts of Columbus' adventure on the open sea, his bargaining with the Queen, his temptations to turn back, and so forth. She also gives the reader insight into the natives who accepted Columbus and his men into their land and became their friends and partners in exploration. Photographs and maps create a visual impression of these events even though this was a time before photography. An index and bibliography add to the research value of this title. This is one of twelve titles in the series "Days of Change" that focus on events that changed the world. Some of the other events are the Holocaust, the Cold War, the bombing of Hiroshima and man's first walk on the moon. These are very worthwhile titles for research in the middle school library. 2010, The Creative Company, $22.95. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Joyce Rice (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781583417324

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air
Stewart Ross
Illustrated by Stephen Biesty
   Into the Unknown provides a detailed overview of well know, and some lesser known, explorers and their journeys in ships, rockets, balloons and submarines. The title has fourteen in-depth narrative chapters with cross sections of the vehicles used to accomplish the quests. The explorations are arranged chronologically and include explorers from many cultures and journeys to different continents. It begins with the remarkable adventures of ancient explorers Pytheas and Leif Eriksson, and then looks at the fascinating exploits of medieval explorers like Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Magellan. A dramatic account of bold polar explorers, mountaineers, and astronauts provides more current ventures. Ross includes information about the lives and careers of the explorers, a brief history of the time period, how their discoveries impacted the way people viewed the world, and the daunting dangers they faced. He chronicles the motivations of each exploration (fame, research or riches) and the success or failure of the journey. Stephen Biesty creates the vivid intricate cross-sections that explain how things were built, how the mechanics worked, the supplies and equipment transported, and how the crews lived. This title will make an outstanding addition to collections of world history and will draw visual learners. It could be used for writing a report, and the attractive illustrations and interesting details will also attract a browser. Readers who enjoy the Eyewitness series by Dorling Kindersley will appreciate this book. A bibliography, index and glossary are included. This title is appropriate for middle, high school and public libraries. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2011, Candlewick Press, 96p.; Biblio. Glossary. Index., $19.99. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer: Eileen Kuhl (VOYA, August 2011 (Vol. 34, No. 3)).
ISBN: 9780763649487

North America
Shirley Greenway
   Did you know that Christopher Columbus was six feet tall and that Daniel Boone was 5'8"? Did you also know that the brother and eldest son of Columbus accompanied his exploration? Such are the interesting facts in this informative, pictorially vivid, and sometimes quirky book about exploration. Exploration of North America introduces the influential explorers of both new lands and new technologies. The arrangement is chronological. It begins with the first people who crossed into Alaska and concludes with Kit Carson. A timeline is interspersed with the mini-chapters. There is a "Did you know?" section of other interesting facts. The robust illustrations and photos are just as enlightening as the text. There are quite a few rich and artful renderings. There are several features that make this book slightly distinctive, one of which is occasional quirkiness. One example is the author referring to the Louisiana Purchase as "one of the smartest property deals in history." Another example is the section "Codfish Ahoy!" which discusses rich fishing grounds discovered by John Cabot. Sometimes explorer traits are revealed, such as the flamboyance of Raleigh or the toughness of Carson. Greenway sometimes presents a useful larger context, such as when she describes exploration shifting from a sometimes haphazard endeavor to business opportunity. The layout of the book might best be described as resembling some of the Dorling Kindersley books, but perhaps more organized. One drawback this reviewer noted was that no sources were cited, unless one considers the children's sources and websites listed in the suggested readings. The book also touts the author as an expert, but declines to provide credentials or even a biography. Exploration of North America is nonetheless an interesting, organized, colorful, and useful read. Includes glossary, suggested reading, and index. This book is part of the series "The History of Exploration." 2010, New Forest Press, $32.80. Ages 11 to 14. Reviewer: David Adams (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781848983014

Spanish Missions
John Perritano
    This book provides a history of the Spanish missions in the United States, beginning with Christopher Columbus's landing in North America. It gives an overview of the Spanish exploration of the American Southwest, how they established missions along the way, and information about the missions today. The illustrations and photographs of the missions are beautiful. The print is a great size for reading aloud or for independent student reading. Particularly difficult words have their pronunciations in parenthesis immediately following the word. Everything in this book stands out. (True Book.). Nonfiction, Highly Recommended. Grades 4. 2010, Children's Press, 48p., $26.00. Ages 9 to 10. Reviewer: Kathy Brockman (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 23, No. 1)).
ISBN: 9780531205754

Prisoner of the Inquisition
Theresa Breslin
    This book is outstanding. At once I couldn't put it down but could hardly continue and I'm sure I'll remember it forever. Most humbling of all is the fact that the fifteenth century Spanish Inquisition really did exist and such happenings really did happen. Theresa Breslin seems to bear the pain and humility of this coupled with tremendous respect for historical fact and accuracy and creates a truly remarkable work. Zarita and Saulo meet as teenagers one fateful day in the Spanish port of Las Conchas in 1490 and their lives are inextricably linked thereafter yet also forced apart. He is banished to life at sea as a slave but also amasses great navigational knowledge and learns first hand the problems facing Christopher Columbus to secure backing for his famous voyage of discovery. There is superb detail about the maps of the era and first ever globe. Simultaneously, Zarita is banished to a life of loneliness and confusion as her father remarries and the Inquisition oppresses the lives of everyone around. Then, as Saulo is free to seek revenge, Zarita is captured and it's only to wonder that the human race can show such courage and ever heal from such horror. Category: More Mature Young Adult Themes. Doubleday, , D12.99. Reviewer: Gill Roberts (Carousel 46, November 2010).
ISBN: 9780385617031

Who Really Discovered America?
Kristine Carlson Asselin
    Every school child knows that Columbus discovered America. What many children do not learn until years later is that Vikings were exploring the North American continent four hundred years before Columbus set sail on his famous voyage. What many more people do not realize is that it was impossible for Columbus or the Vikings to "discover" America because there were millions of people already living in North and South America. Asselin presents the journeys all three groups took to reach the New World as an historic race. While the three groups are divided by thousands of years, the reasons behind their journey and the difficulties they faced are strikingly similar. Filled with images of each group of explorers and race facts offering additional information about each group, the brief text provides a basic overview of Columbus, the Vikings who explored America, and the first group of people to travel to America during the last ice age. This text is part of the "Fact Finders. Race for History" series. 2011, Capstone Press, $25.99. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Danielle Williams (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781429633420

To view a Columbus Day feature from a previous year, click here


Updated 09/23/11

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