MG – Race to the Truth (Series)

Race to the Truth series. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2023. $12.99 ea. 272 p. Grades 6-8.

Coombs, Linda. Colonization and the Wampanoag Story. 978-0-593-48045-8.
Dockery, Patricia Williams. Slavery and the African American Story. 978-0-593-48046-5. 

Wampanoag historian, Linda Coombs sets up this Race to the Truth entry as part narrative, part expository. Interspersed through thirteen chapters, she takes the reader through a year in the Wampanoag community, describing the Wampanoag way of life: the spring planting, the summer celebrations, the fall preparations, the winter insulation. Following each season, Coombs traces the harsh insinuation of colonization into the harmonious, cyclical, oneness with nature of Native American society. The time frame covers the Doctrine of Discovery, examining the impact of Columbus’s findings; the Pilgrims Patterns, disrupting the belief that Thanksgiving was a consensual sharing time with the Wampanoag; and Colonization, revealing the false assumptions colonial writers spread about Native peoples and the transgressions heaped upon the Wampanoag after the Great Dying (erupting from sickness colonists brought to the Native community). The narrative sections are homey and detailed, telling of the close family life, the reverence for everything that the earth provides, the ingenuity and knowledge of the Wampanoag society. Only in the final portion does the perfect harmony crack. Coombs inserts a tale of a Native who is caught stealing furs and other materials on several occasions and ultimately, the community stages a football game to determine the man’s fate: banishment or death. The alternating chapters that take place after 1400 do not stint on the injustice of claiming and usurping land that belongs to others. The excerpts quoted from 17th century works entitled, Mourt’s Relation and Gookin’s Historical Collections, enforce the racist attitude and superiority these white colonists felt toward the Native Americans. Among many other points in this history, Coombs explains The Mayflower Compact, the Catholic Church’s approval of colonization, the reasons for King Philip’s War in 1675, and the devastation of being forced to “live like the English.” Like Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States and Anton Treuer’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition, Colonization and the Wampanoag Story unearths a perspective that is essential for all to know. Though the narrative sections are appropriate for younger readers, the average ten year-old reader may find the expository following difficult to understand independently.

THOUGHTS: The author, Linda Coombs, is from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and served as the  program director of the Aquinnah Cultural Center. Outrageous, infuriating, shameful, extreme unfairness, white privilege–all these words scream in the reader’s mind when learning of the English’s audacity to take over this land nurtured and protected by the Wampanoag for hundreds of years. Young readers will have the same reaction. The contrast of the colonists’ selfishness, ignorance, and bullying with the gentle, peaceful ways of the Native society is stark. With the one exception, life as part of the Wampanoag community prior to colonization seems perfect. This narrative may need some tempering, however, the brutality to the land and the Native communities that loved it stings because of its truth. An essential addition to the school library. One reservation is the size listed as 5 ½” x 8 ¼”. For a book of that length, the size is very small and is sure to get lost on the shelf.

973 History of North America (United States)  

YA – The Subtle Knife

Pullman, Philip. The Subtle Knife. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 978-0-593-17693-1. 272 p. $21.99. Grades 9-12.

This is the second book in the graphic novel edition of His Dark Materials series. Lyra has escaped into a new world after being betrayed by her mother and abandoned by her father. She is searching for information on Dust. Will is a new character, a boy from our world who is dealing with his mother’s struggle with mental illness and his father’s disappearance while exploring. Lyra and Will meet, and their worlds collide. They both set out together to help each other.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations are incredible. The world of Cittigazze is captured amazingly with these dark, steampunk illustrations. The story flowed quite nicely as well. 

Graphic Novel          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Elem. – Alexander von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist & Environmental Pioneer

Novgorodoff, Danica. Alexander von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist & Environmental Pioneer. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022.  978-1-524-77308-3. 39 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

As a young boy growing up in eighteenth century Germany, Alexander von Humboldt was very curious about the natural world. He was full of questions and wanted to be an explorer like Captain James Cook. Alexander spent many hours outdoors and his observations led him to understand that animals, plants, and the weather are all connected to each other. So he studied science and prepared himself to travel to faraway lands. Von Humboldt’s first voyage was to South America, where he found towering mountains, lush vegetation and unfamiliar animals and people. He soon realized that this New World was not all that different from his home and that he shared a lot in common with the indigenous people. The German explorer recognized that the volcanoes here were situated in a chain and he developed theories about why they erupt. He later wrote and lectured on his findings, thus earning the title of “Father of Ecology.”  The author-illustrator includes a detailed author’s note, maps, and a timeline in the back matter. Novgorodoff uses pencil and watercolor to create engaging illustrations and the text placement creates added interest.

THOUGHTS: This picture book biography is a great choice for ecology units or Earth Day storytimes. It may inspire young explorers to pursue a career in ecology. A must have for elementary collections.

921 Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
509.2 Natural Science-Biography

Lives of the Explorers


Krull, Kathleen. Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought).  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 978-0152059101 96 p. $20.99 Gr. 4-8

Krull and Hewitt continue their Lives of the… series (now totaling eight), this time with a look at the lives of 20 famous explorers.  In 2-5 pages per person or group, they give the basics as well as some fun details about the world or the person.  For instance, we learn that Daniel Boone was a peace-loving man who hated coonskin caps; Richard Byrd found fundraising more arduous than months in below-zero temperatures; and Magellan was hated by nearly everyone, especially his crew members.  For each explorer, Krull details the major accomplishments and Hewitt illustrates. The group includes 16 men and 4 women, exploring the earth, ocean, and space. This is an unintimidating, at times humorous, look at intrepid and inquisitive people, which includes further reading but no index.
This is an approachable book, great for browsing, booktalking, and for adding some spark to reports.  It could easily be incorporated into “explorer” units, with students reading these pages before continuing research, or using these mini-biographies as examples for writing their own book on other explorers not included.
920: Collective Biographies; Explorers   Melissa Scott, Shenango High School