This ambitious effort reads like textbook excerpts striving to be docudrama segments.

SEVEN VOYAGES

HOW CHINA'S TREASURE FLEET CONQUERED THE SEA

A broad account of the Ming dynasty’s maritime expeditions, led by a legendary admiral.

A dramatized standoff between pirates in the Strait of Malacca and the Treasure Fleet commanded by Zheng He (1371-1433) launches this work. Referencing numerous sources, the choppy narrative alternately plunges into geopolitical depths and zigzags among points of view, inundating readers with details that are difficult to digest without guidance or visual aids such as comparative timelines. “China was a nation divided against itself….Ethnic Chinese, Mongols, and Uighur tribespeople fought,” and similar declarations suggest an Orientalist-tinged lens on group identities, nationhood, and territoriality. The result: a hodgepodge of human geography mixed with economic calculations and strategic maneuvers in the name of Zhu Di (the self-styled Yongle emperor) that can be dizzying for readers navigating with no context or little prior knowledge. Certain chronicles, along with highlights of ship construction and nautical technologies, are vivid and engaging while scant maps, diagrams, and text panels do double duty in illustrating salient facts. In failing to center Zheng He—a multifaith diplomat of mixed ancestry who knew Arabic and prioritized linguistic and cultural knowledge—Bergreen and Fray sacrifice a cogent storytelling approach. Casting too wide a net, this volume flounders in its attempt to convey an intriguing chapter in anthropology and world history for young English-language readers.

This ambitious effort reads like textbook excerpts striving to be docudrama segments. (bibliography, notes on sources, index) (Nonfiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-62672-122-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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THE CIVIL WAR AT SEA

In this companion to Portraits of War: Civil War Photographers and Their Work (1998), Sullivan presents an album of the prominent ships and men who fought on both sides, matched to an engrossing account of the war's progress: at sea, on the Mississippi, and along the South's well-defended coastline. In his view, the issue never was in doubt, for though the Confederacy fought back with innovative ironclads, sleek blockade runners, well-armed commerce raiders, and sturdy fortifications, from the earliest stages the North was able to seal off, and then take, one major southern port after another. The photos, many of which were made from fragile glass plates whose survival seems near-miraculous, are drawn from private as well as public collections, and some have never been published before. There aren't any action shots, since mid-19th-century photography required very long exposure times, but the author compensates with contemporary prints, plus crisp battle accounts, lucid strategic overviews, and descriptions of the technological developments that, by war's end, gave this country a world-class navy. He also profiles the careers of Matthew Brady and several less well-known photographers, adding another level of interest to a multi-stranded survey. (source notes, index) (Nonfiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7613-1553-5

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Twenty-First Century/Millbrook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Trots in all the tropes except the cherry tree, but the rosy glow may not be misplaced considering his predecessor.

JOE BIDEN

A BIOGRAPHY FOR YOUNG READERS

A hagiographic portrait of the United States’ newest president-elect.

Gormley begins with Biden’s working-class origins, then retraces his development as a “natural leader” from roguish, family-centered senior class president to responsible and still family-centered national one. Focusing as she goes on values or character-revealing anecdotes and sound bites (including multiple early predictions that he would grow up to be president), she turns his father’s motto “if you get knocked down, get up” into a thematic mantra. Gormley portrays his career as a heroic march to the White House past both political challenges and wrenching personal tragedies. The author mixes frank accounts of the latter with heartwarming family stories like the time his sons, then 6 and 7, sat him down in 1976 and told him to marry Jill Jacobs. The author presents Biden’s early positions on, for instance, same-sex marriage or crime as either evolving or errors acknowledged in retrospect, dismisses allegations of sexual harassment, and frames his verbal gaffes as just foibles: “Obama was ‘the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.’ Oops. Joe Biden had spoken without thinking.” Side looks at relevant topics from trickle-down economics to the Electoral College inelegantly interrupt the text but serve to fill in some of the historical background, and the tactics and failures of the Trump administration, particularly to address the Covid-19 pandemic, get a good airing. The narrative ends the weekend after Election Day with an analysis of the challenges ahead. No illustrations or index were seen.

Trots in all the tropes except the cherry tree, but the rosy glow may not be misplaced considering his predecessor. (source notes) (Biography. 11-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-7932-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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