________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 12 . . . . February 6, 2009

cover Ballplayers and Bonesetters: One Hundred Ancient Aztec and Maya Jobs You Might Have Adored or Abhorred.

Laurie Coulter. Illustrated by Martha Newbigging.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2008.
96 pp., pbk. & hc., $16.95 (pbk.), $25.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-2-55451-140-2 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-2-55451-141-9 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Aztecs-Employment-Juvenile literature. Mayas-Employment-Juvenile literature. Indians of Central America-Employment-Juvenile literature.
Aztecs-Juvenile literature.
Mayas-Juvenile literature.
Indians of Central America-Juvenile literature.
Occupations-Central America-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Shannon Ozirny.

**** /4


Tanner: You treat the skins of deer (mazatl) so that they can be cut into strips for painted books or made into sandals. Every part of the deer will be used. The meat is eaten, the bones become tools, and the hooves are made into rattles. Yours is a smelly job. After you’ve scraped the flesh and fur off, you soak the hide in a solution containing mushed-up excrement. The enzymes in the poo gobble up a layer of gluey tissue that would otherwise make the skin stiff once it dried. Another ancient way to tan a deer hide is to soak it in wood and ash mixed with water, scrape off the flesh, and then put the hide in a solution containing the animal’s own brain. The brain enzymes tan the deer’s hide. Run, mazatl, run!

Historical working men and women are once again taking care of business in the third installment of one of Canada’s best information book series. Ballplayers and Bonesetters: One Hundred Ancient Aztec and Maya Jobs You Might Have Adored or Abhorred lives up to its two successful, alliterative predecessors: Cowboys and Coffin Makers: One Hundred 19th Century Jobs You Might Have Feared or Fancied and Archers, Alchemists, and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed. Long titles? Yes. Stellar books? You bet your bowl of atoli! (for all you twenty-first century types, atoli is a type of Mesoamerican gruel).

internal art

    Ballplayers and Bonesetters gives young readers the unique opportunity to explore one hundred different historical occupations from Mesoamerica. The book is conveniently divided into a dozen manageable sections, and chapters like Pyramid-Temple Building Jobs, Food and Drink Jobs, Military Jobs, Health and Beauty Jobs, and Beast, Bird, and Bug Jobs ensure captivating material for both genders with a wide variety of interests. From Tooth Filers who saw a client’s upper front teeth into a T-shape, to Voladors who dress as birds and bungee jump from 100 feet, to Counterfeiters who make fake cacao beans with avocado pits, this book is endlessly fascinating.

     While the occupational content is obvious from the title, the rich supplementary information should not go unnoticed. Ballplayers and Bonesetters is more than a list of jobs. A valuable 10 page introductory section includes a historical timeline and useful half-page charts detailing Nahuatl language pronunciation (very helpful for teachers or librarians who want to read aloud from the text!) and Mesoamerican Firsts (sports fans will be interested to learn that the Mesoamericans were the first to make rubber balls and one of the first to play team sports). Even better, all chapters include valuable information boxes with compelling tidbits on pyramid-temple echoes, pictograms, and the perks of being an Aztec noble. Truly, readers get a first-rate Mesoamerican social history lesson by learning about the work of the people.

     The book is entirely engaging, and Martha Newbigging’s detailed cartoons shine just as bright as Laurie Coulter’s spunky, humorous tone. Coulter is able to write in the second-person without antagonizing her young audience with syrupy condescension. For instance, after explaining the Aztec tendency of eating various types of insects, she writes, “You should not eat your neighbourhood insects, because they could make you very sick. But you don’t need to be told that, right?” The result is something which is all-too-rare in an information book: a narrator with personality and voice. Laurie Coulter expertly balances hilarity and authority, effortlessly replacing the all-too-familiar drone of the typical history book narrator.

     “Wow!” “Really?” “Gross!” “Listen to this!” Put this book into the hands of young people and this is what you will hear. Amazement, disbelief, nose-wrinkling, and sharing; I believe these are the main criteria for a winning information book, and Ballplayers and Bonesetters guarantees them all. Get ready for 96 pages of undeniably stimulating ancient facts mixed with a welcoming dose of Mesoamerican malarkey. Coulter and Newbigging get a four out of four. Or, written in the Mesoamerican way, four small dots out of four small dots.

Highly Recommended.

Shannon Ozirny has a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from UBC and is currently in hot pursuit of her Master of Library and Information Studies degree. She hopes that these qualifications will help her become a children’s librarian, and avoid the Aztec fate of becoming a Latrine.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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