________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 17 . . . .April 13, 2007

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The Biography of Coffee. (How Did That Get Here?).

Adrianna Morganelli.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2007.
32 pp., pbk. & cl., $10.40 (pbk.), $20.76 (cl.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-2524-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-2488-9 (rlb.).

Subject Heading:
Coffee-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

*** /4

   
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The Biography of Silk. (How Did That Get Here?).

Carrie Gleason.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2007.
32 pp., pbk. & cl., $10.40 (pbk.), $20.76 (cl.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-2523-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-2487-2 (rlb.).

Subject Heading:
Silk-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

*** /4

   
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The Biography of Vanilla. (How Did That Get Here?).

Julie Karner.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2007.
32 pp., pbk. & cl., $10.40 (pbk.), $20.76 (cl.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-2526-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-2490-2 (rlb.).

Subject Heading:
Vanilla-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

*** /4

   

excerpt:

Theft is always a problem for vanilla farmers and curers, especially when vanilla prices are high. Some farmers pick their beans early to prevent them from being stolen from the vines, which results in lower quality beans. Farmers and managers of curing plants sleep near their crops or store of beans, armed with guns to stop thieves from stealing vanilla beans. Many curing houses search their workers at the end of each day. A few pounds of vanilla may be worth more than a worker makes in a year, and curing houses do not want beans to be stolen.

Vanilla farmers often "tattoo" their beans, stamping a mark onto them while they are still on the vine. Each farm has its own mark. Anyone trying to sell beans that have a mark belonging to another farm is arrested. (From
The Biography of Vanilla)

 

Part of the 17-volume "How Did That Get Here?" series, these books, averaging 11 chapters each, begin with an explanation of the featured product and end with the product's current status in the world, but the majority of pages focus on the product's history. For that reason alone, the series might not appeal to a younger audience. (A common thread in the series is that each of the products has slavery and mistreatment of people as part of its history.) Though the books are written by different authors, the writing styles are similar and easy to read. A table of contents, a glossary and an index are provided. Abundant maps, illustrations and photographs, including advertisements and black-and-white archival photos, enhance the text and contribute to the books' attractive layouts.

     After oil, coffee is the second most valuable commodity traded in the world. The Biography of Coffee traces its history from its discovery in 850 A.D. in Ethiopia to the present day, including information about the popularity of coffee houses through the ages. In 1511, for example, leaders in Mecca (now Saudi Arabia) closed all of the coffee houses because they believed that drinking coffee went against Islamic teachings and feared that these gathering places fostered negative political discussion. Other topics covered in this book are the growth, harvesting, processing, grading and selling of coffee; inventions, such as roasting machines, coffee grinders, filters and brewing devices; and the different ways in which coffee is drunk around the world. At various times, coffee was believed by some to aid digestion, cure headaches and diseases of the skin and bowels, whereas others thought that it was harmful to people's health. Yet, despite the controversy, coffee continues to rise in popularity. The book provides some information about the "big four" of coffee manufacturing - Procter and Gamble, Sara Lee, Kraft Foods and Nestlé - as well as the Starbucks and Tim Horton's coffee chains. Finally, the authors discuss fair trade coffee which is grown on plantations noted for their safe, healthy working conditions and fair pay to laborers.

      Silk is prized for its luxurious feel, ability to fold and drape well, and for its versatility, keeping the wearer warm in winter and cool in summer. It is the most desirable fabric in history. The Biography of Silk features information about silkworms, sericulture (silk farming) occurring on farms, in factories and as a cottage industry, and the steps in the silk-making process, from the care and feeding of silkworms to the dyeing and finishing of the fabric. Throughout history there have been many legends, superstitions and customs associated with the raising of silkworms; several of them are presented here. A large section of the book covers the history of silk from the series of trade routes known as the Silk Road to the guilds established in Europe, the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the Jacquard Loom, and silk's popularity in America. Other topics include labor strikes in silk factories, the abolishment of child labor in England and America in the 1800s, and the present-day working conditions of children 14 and under who toil for as many as 84 hours per week in silk factories in India. The book ends with the uses of silk: clothing, nylon stockings, silk-screen painting, medicine (sutures, artificial tendons and ligaments) and as a delicacy in some Asian countries where people eat silkworm pupae.

      Considered a spice, vanilla is derived from the seed pods of the vanilla orchid. Perhaps it is best known for its use in soft drinks, baked goods and ice cream as well as in perfumes, scented soaps and candles, but vanilla can also mask the taste of certain medicines and the odour in paints. Discovered in Mexico by the Totonac people, vanilla soon found its way to Spain. In The Biography of Vanilla, readers will learn about the difficulty in growing and processing vanilla beans as well as the buying and selling of the spice to exporters and manufacturers. Vanilla is costly for a number of reasons: because the orchid is an epiphyte, it must be attached to a "host," and then it takes three years to grow; the flowers are pollinated by hand; the beans must be picked at just the right time, cured for six weeks, then sorted by grade. Other topics featured in the book are the rising popularity- and expense- of Tahitian vanilla; the types of vanilla, vanilla extracts and their uses; and threats to the vanilla vines, such as tropical storms and flooding, and diseases, all of which raise the price of this commodity. Fair Trade, a worldwide program that assists vanilla farmers and supports environmentally friendly practices in growing vanilla crops, is also discussed.

      Although they are very interesting (much more so than previous titles in the series) and appealing, with plenty of excellent photographs and an attractive layout, the books, due to their emphasis on the historical aspect, will have limited usefulness in an elementary school.

Recommended.

Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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