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“The Wild West” By Henry Brook (Review)

Native American Chief by Elwood W. McKay IIIThe area of the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains – beyond the original colonies on the eastern seaboard – has always held a mystique and wonder, both for the people who lived it and the people who look back to a place and time unrecognizable in the modern world.

The Wild West earned its name in history on the back of stories about cattle and pony rustlers, marauding Indians, bank robbing gangs, saloon shootouts and whooping prospectors striking it rich in the various mining towns of the west. It earned its reputation fast with stories traversing the infant United States by rail and telegraph new technologies that cemented and helped exaggerate the reputations of real people.

Henry Brook takes on the mission of distilling the modern legends of the 19th and early 20th Century in as easily accessible a fashion for Usborne Publishings True Stories line. It is certainly not an original topic to approach but one which this western obsessed reviewer enthusiastically approaches. The task is always clear – make it readable, make it interesting, make it educational.

The old favorites are in attendance as the book comes with ten stories including such western luminaries as: Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, the Daltons, Buffalo Bill, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, my old favorite Wild Bill Hickok and one story I hadn’t read about before on mountain man Hugh Glass, which is an extraordinary tale.

Brook accomplishes his task with three approaches. He introduces each new story with a narrative passage that throws you into the setting like a fictionalized novel and then pulls out to give a sufficiently fleshed out historical account of the story in question. Added to this the book is dotted with interesting sketches in much the similar fashion of the ‘Dime Novels’ that first gave these legends legs. Brook regularly gives definitions of words readers might not be familiar with allowing them to expand their vocabulary.

At 150 something pages, the ten chapters do not stretch the readers interest allowing short quick reads each night or day (if in school) and whilst not going into detail the book does what all good young readers books should – it leaves the reader wanting to know more.

My only reservation is that whilst a map is included at the front of the book it is symbolic of the scope of the book rather than of any particular use. It can become very easy reading the stories to lose track of any sense of locality and as the American west is probably unfamiliar to a British student, maybe a small sketch of the narrative area at the start of some of the stories would have been illustrative of events. The story on Butch Cassidy is an example – a sketch of the two Americas highlighting the distances traveled would have been impressive on the reader and helped them track the people involved.

The cover price is £4.99, good value for something which can keep a kid occupied for a week or two and who knows – like an old book on the west did for me when I was a kid, Brooks book might spark a wider interest in history for the young reader.

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Posted by on November 13, 2010 in Non-Fiction, Reviews

 

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Yeehaw! “Cowboys” by Catriona Clarke (Review)

Last weekend a couple of non-fiction books landed in the post in double quick fashion from the children’s book publishers Usborne. They had been hoping to have a lovely rush of book reviews to coincide with National Non-Fiction Book Day. Fabulous idea, alas I accidentally refused to play ball by not noticing this desire and getting all caught up in preparations for a job interview and well, feeling sorry for myself after said job interview.

To make up for it I am sat typing this review out on my blackberry at work in the hopes of posting it before Non-Fiction Day passes. The book, “Cowboys” by Catriona Clarke is part of those set of books aimed at new readers but caught the attentions of everybody in my household – parents, fiancé, and myself.

The presentation itself is clean and tidy with a mixture of paintings, cartoons and photographs to illustrate succinct points made in the text. I teach American West at GCSE level, and even I learned something useful which is a great credit to the scope of the book. It covers a simple definition of a cowboy, what they do and how they dress to the rise and decline of the Cattle Drives of the mid 19th Century, the prominence of the West in pop culture like movies and books, and lastly how the cowboy survives today (part extreme sportsman, part tourist attraction, part farmer).

The book was a little difficult for a young Czech boy who was still developing his English but it still provided a great talking point for the child and his support teacher and part of what we look for is ways to get children from different backgrounds talking and participating.

For children and teachers looking for inspiration and a talking point I highly recommend this book as the pictures are certainly a pleasure to look at. It’s the kind of book I would have snatched off the shelf during a wet break time and read again and again as my imagination carried me off into the pictures. Anything which stimulates conversation or imagination in young children gets my thumbs up.

Another book from the True Stories collection called “The Wild West” by Henry Brook will be reviewed as soon as possible. Keep an eye on the twitter feed or register for updates on this site for an alert when its done.

You can browse the Usborne catalogue here.

Can you recommend any non-fiction books for primary school readers? Post them in the comments below.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Non-Fiction, Reviews

 

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