CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 1 . . . . September 3, 2004
The above excerpt is the start of another adventure by the Binkerton children in the "Good Times Travel Agency" series. The twins, Josh and Emma, have no intention of entering the Good Times Travel Agency, but Libby, their younger sister, finds the smell of Chinese noodles, emanating from the store, to be too enticing. All three children find the noodles to be very delicious. (It is the author's second favourite food.) Before they could retreat to the safety of the street, a book is taken off the store's shelves and they are magically whisked through time to ancient China. The three children find themselves knee-deep in a rice paddy in ancient China. As in the other four adventures, the twins know that they will have to read Pettigrew's guide book from cover to cover before they will be returned to their modern-day lives.
As Josh and Emma are arguing about what to do, the Chinese farmers label them as "barbarians" - people who do not live in China. Josh is busy bemoaning his missed soccer game when Emma realizes Libby has vanished. They find out that Libby has caught a ride in a carriage with a Chinese official who is on his way to the Chinese capital of Chang'an.
While Libby rides and eats in style as she nears the capital, Emma and Josh cannot be too fussy about rides offered in all sorts of ancient conveyances, including carts and wheelbarrows. The twins have to also hunt, and sometimes work, for food. On their way to Chang'an, the "poor" way (often by foot), Josh and Emma discover that China during that time was already a country credited with many inventions, such as a wheelbarrow, compass, seismograph, and the making of silk and paper (both carefully guarded secrets).
In a format similar to the previously published "Good Times Travel Agency" adventures, the fictionalized part of the story is told through comic-book style illustrations which sport speech balloons and story boxes. The adventures and misadventures of the three children are told through the children's often humorous comments and dialogue. Then, at the bottom of almost every page are the pages of Pettigrew's guidebook to Ancient China. Here, both the reader and the story characters learn about different aspects of Chinese everyday life and culture during the Han Dynasty, often emphasizing the differences between the rich and the poor in China. The factual information which appears in the guidebook is accurate and further explains what happens to the Binkertons and why.
Bill Slavin's pen and ink drawings come alive with colourful washes of watercolour and depict first century China very well. They are not only rich in historical detail but also illustrate and enhance the many humorous parts of the story.
The books ends with some historical background on ancient China and includes a map showing where China is located. The only quibble I have with the book is with the page-numbered references found on the last page of the book. Instead of including this quasi index/table of contents, it would be more useful to have an alphabetized index to the book so students could quickly find specific information about China.
School and public libraries would do well to include this humorous, yet informative, introduction to ancient China. It is presented in a style attractive to children and may encourage further reading on this topic. It is apparent that Linda Bailey has done a lot of research on this topic, incorporating it into a readable adventure story which blends fact and fiction.
Margaret Rodermond is a Curriculum Librarian in the Faculty of Education's Curriculum Laboratory at the University of Lethbridge in Lethbridge, AB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.