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Ballplayers and Bonesetters: One Hundred Ancient Aztec and Maya Jobs You Might Have Adored or Abhorred Hardcover – Sep 30 2008
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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.
“… a distinctive look … that adds much information in a witty and charming cartoon style.”—Canadian Children’s Book News, 10/08
“This book rates very big in ‘COOL’ness factor!”—Resource Links, 12/08
“… this kid-friendly narrative will entice with its humor and unexpected trivia.”—ForeWord Magazine, 01/09
“… entirely engaging, and Martha Newbigging’s detailed cartoons shine just as bright as Laurie Coulter’s spunky, humorous tone. Highly recommended.”—CM Magazine, 02/09
“... readable … humorous … lively ... 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 ... a solid purchase for elementary school and public libraries.”—School Library Journal, 12/08
“This book describes in often humorous detail (accompanied by equally humorous illustrations) the work that both the elites and commoners performed. The jobs run the gamut from judge to latrine boatman, from salt maker to adobe brick maker, from Great King to slave.”— The Globe and Mail, 09/08