________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 21. . . .June 13, 2008


Wonder Kids: The Remarkable Lives of Nine Child Prodigies.

Charis Cotter.
Toronto, ON: Annick, 2008.
136 pp., pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-133-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-134-1 (hc.).

Subject Heading:
Gifted children-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Catherine Howett.

*** /4



Most kids know how it feels to be good at something, whether it's hockey, playing the drums, spelling, or throwing a baseball. And it's easy to become fascinated by a subject and want to learn everything about it - perhaps dinosaurs, or ancient Egypt, or medieval knights, or outer space. But think about combining the ability to do something really well with a passionate desire to spend all your time doing it. These wonder kids had brains and talent to burn.


Charis Cotter has followed up her 2007 book, Kids Who Rule: The Remarkable Lives of Five Child Monarchs, with a look at the profiles of nine historical and current child prodigies. The group includes poet Phillis Wheatley from colonial Boston, polyglot and author Mariea Gaetana Agnesi of 18th century Milan, performers Buster Keaton, and Dai Vernon (magic) and a range of musicians from Fanny Mendelssohn to Clara Schumann to Stevie Wonder. The collection wraps up with biographies of more recent prodigies artist Wang Yani of China and Terence Tao, a young mathematician from Australia.

     Each individual has a dedicated, structured chapter. A picture of the individual, name and date of birth (and death) are presented as a frontispiece, and a dramatized incident from the individual's life serves as an introduction to the biographical section. The text is broken up by font changes, section titles, text boxes and colourful illustrations and images - all highlighted by a bright lime green. Small star graphics are used throughout with a larger graphic used as a background for the end sections of further materials of interest. My only quibble with the formatting is that I found the additional text highlighting technique distracting as it added a somewhat ragged look to the presentation.

      The content of the book is well-paced. Cotter incorporates a range of concepts like Romanticism, Classicism, segregation, slavery, and child labour in a very accessible discussion. Particularly, Cotter does not show the lives of her subjects through rose-coloured glasses. In describing how these prodigies' abilities were discovered and developed, she documents quite clearly the struggles many of them underwent as well as their often difficult relationships with mentors.

      Wonder Kids is an excellent little reference book full of very interesting material presented in a semi-formal manner ideal for familiarizing students with the structure of academic-type materials. The "Spend more time with..." section at the end of each biography gives further materials (print and online) of interest, and Cotter lists her sources in section order, presents endnotes for the quotes throughout the text, and has indexed the text succinctly.


Catherine Howett is a Research and Resource Centre Coordinator and advocate for school libraries. She lives in Vancouver, BC.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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