Tales of Ancient Worlds: Adventures in Archaeology

Authored by Stefan Milosavljevich
Illustrated by Sam Caldwell
Published by Macmillan

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This substantial and information-rich book takes the reader on a journey through archaeological discoveries from the Stone Age to the Cahokia people in Mississippi over nine hundred years ago. Crossing continents and centuries, the stories that are told by the You Tuber Stefan Milosavljevich (Stefan Milo) are fascinating and intriguing. His informal, chatty style make it a great book to read aloud and for independent readers to dip in and out of. The book is divided into four main chapters (The First Humans, The Age of Cities, Ancient Empires and The Age of Discovery) and each one has between 13 and 15 stories told across one or two double page spreads, illustrated by Sam Caldwell. The illustrations are either imaginative reconstructions of an event (the eruption of Vesuvius is one such example) or illustrations of archaeological finds, such as the Terracotta Army or glass andeads found in the Bronze Age Uluburn shipwreck off the coast of Turkey. As you would expect from a non-fiction book like this, it has a contents page, an index and a short glossary at the back. The font is well spaced and while there is quite a bit of text, each story can be read on its own. It is this story-telling style which bridges the gap between information and fiction books.

However, this hybrid style can make the book rather problematic and gives rise to some fantastic opportunities to approach it more critically. Let’s start with the design which raises some interesting questions. Throughout the text certain words or phrases have been printed in bold and it is not at all obvious the reason for this; some of the words can be found in the glossary but most are not and merely serve to break up the text and puzzle the reader. For example, in a section called The Baby That Loved To Climb on page 14, “Great Rift Valley”, “Lucy’s baby” and “love to eat you for breakfast” are all printed in bold. The first two appear in the index but the last phrase does not. This could be confusing for the reader and particularly for the intended audience of young readers who are still learning the conventions of non-fiction texts. The chapter headings are also a little confusing as the contents page has the four main chapters in bold but with no dates (when is ‘The Age of Cities’?) or chapter numbers. A small point but the lack of consistency could make the reading experience quite jarring. However, helpfully, the introduction to each chapter is numbered.

Budding historians will wish that the book had a timeline and dates to be able to contextualise the stories they are reading about. It would have been so powerful for the dates of the civilisations archaeologists were investigating to be seen alongside the dates that the artefacts were found so that the passage of time was made explicit. Phrases such as ‘a smidge over 1,000 years ago’ are just not precise enough for children to understand. The illustrations reinforce this slippery approach to dates and timelines. The same illustrative style is used throughout for both the imaginative reconstruction of the ancient worlds being described, the archaeologists at work and the artefacts they find which makes conceptualising the different periods of history difficult for young readers. It would have also helped to have had a conclusion to draw all the strands and connections together at the end as well as suggestions for further reading.

It would be a welcome addition to a class reading corner to tempt readers who love non-fiction but are reluctant to venture into fiction books and for teachers to read aloud in class. The short chapters lend themselves to quick reads at the end of a lesson or when there is a spare five or ten minutes during the day and the tales are fascinating, exciting and entertaining. As a curriculum resource, it is a text which could be used for critical examination when learning to read and think like a historian and as a way to critically introduce the processes of historical research. It will encourage children to find out more of these extraordinary stories of discovery which are so perfectly pitched for reading aloud.

 

 

 

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