Critical, respectful, engaging: exemplary history for children.


From the History Smashers series

Adopting a casual, colloquial tone, Messner dismantles one received truth after another, drawing on a variety of resources and evidence to give readers the “real-deal story of the Mayflower” and its storied passengers.

Never underestimating the capacity of her readers, she begins with a brief history of the Reformation in England before following William Brewster’s group of separatists as they eventually made their way to the shores of Massachusetts and seized Wampanoag land for their colony. Shifting tone as appropriate, copious sidebars include a discussion on the relative reliability of primary sources, the inglorious history of Plymouth Rock, and modern efforts to reclaim the Wampanoag language, Wôpanâak. Quotations from primary sources are presented in an antique-looking display type and then translated into modern English: “ ‘[The mussels] caused us to cast and scour, but they were soon all well again.’ —Edward Winslow / Translation: They threw up and had diarrhea but felt better in a while.” Most notable is the care with which Messner covers relations between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag; her description of first contact is brilliant in its refusal to cast the Indigenous people as other: “After [Myles Standish and his party had] gone about a mile, they saw five or six people and a dog.” Meconis’ humorous cartoons—sometimes presented as comics-style paneled sequences—complement archival illustrations, which readers are frequently invited to examine critically. The second in the History Smashers series, Women’s Right To Vote, publishes simultaneously.

Critical, respectful, engaging: exemplary history for children. (author's note, further reading, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12031-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.


In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Several unexpected connections, though Eurocentric overall and lacking in racial diversity.



Renowned achievers go nose-to-nose on fold-out pages.

Mixing contemporary celebrities with historical figures, Corbineau pairs off his gallery of full-page portraits by theme, the images all reworked from photos or prints into cut-paper collages with highly saturated hues. Gandhi and Rosa Parks exemplify nonviolent protest; Mother Teresa and Angelina Jolie are (mostly) commended for their work with impoverished people; and a “common point” between Gutenberg and Mark Zuckerberg is that both revolutionized the ways we communicate. The portraits, on opposite ends of gatefolds, open to reveal short biographies flanking explanatory essays. Women and people of color are distinctly underrepresented. There are a few surprises, such as guillotined French playwright Olympe de Gouges, linked for her feminism with actress Emma Watson; extreme free-fall jumper Felix Baumgartner, paired with fellow aerialist record-seeker Amelia Earhart; and Nelson Mandela’s co–freedom fighter Jean Moulin, a leader of the French Resistance. In another departure from the usual run of inspirational panegyrics, Cornabas slips in the occasional provocative claim, noting that many countries considered Mandela’s African National Congress a terrorist organization and that Mother Teresa, believing that suffering was “a gift from God,” rarely gave her patients painkillers. Although perhaps only some of these subjects “changed the world” in any significant sense, all come off as admirable—for their ambition, strength of character, and drive.

Several unexpected connections, though Eurocentric overall and lacking in racial diversity. (map, timeline) (Collective biography. 8-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7643-6226-2

Page Count: 84

Publisher: Schiffer

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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