Explorers of the New World, by Carla Mooney (ages 9-12, 128 pages), is a recent edition to Nomad Press' excellent Build It Yourself series. Mooney takes readers from the Silk Road and the search to find a water route from Europe to Asia, to 16th century European ventures to North America, describing the advances in cartography and technology (there's a particularly nice description of why caravels were different and important) that made European explorers capable of extending their reach around the world.
Interspersed with this account are 22 activities that bring the world of the explorers to life--from blending spice mixes to making your own compass and sailor's lanyard. The inclusion of a make-your-own Dream Catcher craft was a tad jarring, though-- this was not something the European explorers would have had any interest in doing!
As the title of the book promises, it is the European explorers who are the focus of the story. All the familiar names are here, as well as some I don't remember learning about in school, such as Pedro Alvares Cabral, the first Eruopean to land on Brazil, and Martin Frobisher, an English explorer who set out in 1576 to find the Northwest Passage.
Mooney includes mention of the horrors that exploration brouht to the people whose lands were being explored, with such as statements as this:"When the Aztecs surrendered, there were only about 30,000 people remain in the once-proud city of 300,000" (page 79), and a section on killer diseases. But I wish that the ending of the book had been less up-beat and pro-explorer.
Here's how the book ends:
"The brave explorers of the New World risked their lives and fortunes with each voyage into the unknown. Their journeys to the New World left a lasting legacy. It can still be seen in the languages, religions and cultures of the people who live in North and South America today" (page 107).
I don't think this adequately underscores the European efforts to commit genocide that began here in the age of exploration, and the long-term consequences of colonization, such as the slave trade, and the rise of European empires. Although the last sentence is true, the fact that "I am reading this book in English here in New England because the English colonists were very successful in killing, enslaving, displacing, and imposing their culture on many (but by no means all) of the original people of this place" is not the message it conveys.
Despite that (especially if what happened next can be expanded on by an adult), this book seems one that should be welcomed wholeheartedly by educators seeking clearly written and detailed (but not overwhelmingly so) accounts of the men who came from Europe to explore the "new" (irony) world.
Non-Fiction Monday (a recurring Kidlitosphere event) is hosted by Amy O'Quinn today.
(Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)