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Ballplayers and Bonesetters: One Hundred Ancient Aztec and Maya Jobs You Might Have Adored or Abhorred [Hardcover]

Laurie Coulter , Martha Newbigging

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Book Description

Sept. 12 2008 Jobs in History

Ever thought of becoming a bug farmer?
Or how about a stone slinger?

Imagine growing up in Mesoamerica before the Spanish Conquest (1350-1521). What does your future hold? The ancient Aztecs, Maya and other Mesoamericans believed that the gods created a world where everyone had a role to play. Some people were born to rule, others to serve. If you were lucky, you might have been a high priest or a queen. On the other hand, you could have ended up as a latrine boatman or a slave destined to become a sacrificial victim.

Find out what it was like to be a tax collector (don't try to keep any money for yourself; the penalty is death!) or a porter (only if you enjoy carrying heavy packs up mountains). Or perhaps you'd prefer building pyramids, raising dogs or being a royal cook (frog casserole with green chile, anyone?).

Other jobs you might have held include:

  • Counterfeiter
  • Bell maker
  • Mosaic mask maker
  • Beekeeper.

Featuring a fact-filled introduction, a timeline and humorous illustrations, this book offers a unique view of one of the most remarkable civilizations of all time.

Product Details

Product Description

Quill & Quire

Ballplayers and Bonesetters is the third book in a series that examines the history of specific eras from an unusual angle. Like Archers and Alchemists (the medieval era) and Cowboys and Coffin Makers (the 19th century) before it, Ballplayers focuses on the kinds of jobs and occupations available at the time. It’s an interesting and potentially fruitful approach, especially given the seemingly paradoxical fascination jobless little ones have for adult occupations. To make the approach work, however, requires a careful balance of hard information and entertainment value. Ballplayers occasionally gets this balance wrong. First off, the book spends nearly 15 text-heavy pages giving the reader background historical information on the Aztec and Maya civilizations. Some of this is obviously necessary, and Coulter does a decent job of keeping the information comprehensible and approachable – but there’s just too much of it. Detailed explanations of Meso-american cosmology and early job training simply hold up the proceedings. The meat of the book,  of course, is the jobs themselves. Here we get everything from judge to latrine boatman to poet to royal historian to slave to drummer to master of cremation ceremony. Each occupation gets either a half-page or a full page of explanation, along with an illustration. In this case, the huge amount of information and overwhelming number of jobs included form a plus. Martha Newbigging’s full-colour illustrations are serviceable, though they often come off as a little too cute for the book’s suggested age range, and therefore out of sync with the prose. As well, her gentle and cartoonish images represent something of a missed opportunity to depict the kind of out-and-out weirdness/grossness that would better hold the attention of the kind of kid who’d want to read about ancient latrine boatmen in the first place.


Readable and humorous ... the descriptions of the vocations yield a rich view of the culture, and the breezy text makes this as much a browsing as a reference title. The colorful cartoon illustrations enhance the text, adding just the right artistic complement... A solid purchase for elementary school and public libraries. (Ann Welton, Helen B Stafford Elementary, Tacoma TX School Lilbrary Journal 2008-12-01)

An excellent source for a report about Mesoamerican life. With short paragraphs on each occupation, cartoon pictures of Mesoamericans at their jobs, and bubble commentary, this kid-friendly narrative will entice with its humor and unexpected trivia. (Ellizabeth Breau ForeWord 2009-01-03)

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