CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 23. . . .February 19, 2010
Aztec. (Kids @ the Crossroads).
Laura Scandiffio. Art by Tina Holdcroft.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2009.
72 pp., pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-176-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-177-8 (hc.).
Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.
Review by Philip Bravo.
16th day of Tlaxochimaco (offering of flowers), year 1 Reed Tepin's Omens
It can be hard to see how small things are connected to great ones, but sometimes it becomes clear and you see the whole design at once. Maybe the world is like a web, and one person's actions can have vast consequences. Pluck at one point and the whole thing shakes, or tears apart. I took the first steps in my plan today, and I think I see now how important it is that I not fail in the rest.
When I entered the temple school, I wondered if anyone would challenge me, but no one did. Everyone I passed seemed too busy to notice me. I didn't think too much about what was distracting them all – I want to find Tepin. She seemed changed that last time I saw her at home, but when we were younger I could always talk to her.
As parents, librarians and teachers know, enticing children to read historical fiction and nonfiction is often a trying task. Laura Scandiffio's latest book, Aztec, part of the "Kids @ the Crossroads" series and illustrated by Tina Holdcroft, is betting that "high tech storytelling" will entice children to read both genres. Aztec is a coming-of-age story set in pre-Columbian Mexico and narrated by a boy who writes a blog. Keywords or links in the blog entries are highlighted in blue to direct the reader to "fact filled windows" scattered throughout the book. Each blog entry includes a date drawn from Mexica calendar and a title.
In 1519, or according to the Mexica calendar, year 1 Reed, Yoatl is a 12-year-old boy living in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Mexica Empire. Yoatl's life takes an unexpected turn when he is told that he will not be attending the Calmeca, a prep school where boys are trained to become civil servants or priests. Due to events beyond Yoatl's control, he will be trained to become a warrior at the School of Youth. Although Yoatl is an intelligent and perceptive boy, he is physically and psychologically unprepared for this training. When Yaotl is captured by the Mexica's traditional enemies, he is brought to the enemy camp where he witnesses a conversation between several "hairy-faced men" and the Spanish conquistador, Don Cortes. Yoatl learns that he was the topic of their conversation, and he is asked by Don Cortes to guide the Spanish troops and their allies to Tenochtitlan. En route to the capital, the Spanish are attacked by Tlaxcallan warriors. During the confusion of battle, Yoatl escapes into a nearby ravine. Following an exhausting day alone in the forest, Yoatl is surprised to find his father leading a group of Mexica warriors interested in offering an invitation to Don Cortes to meet the Mexica Emperor. The story concludes with Yoatl, his father and the Mexica awaiting their tragic meeting with the Spanish.
Aztec offers readers interesting information about the era, the diversity of Mesoamerican culture, a fast-paced story, interesting characters and an attractive protagonist that most readers will relate to quite well. The text is complemented with excellent graphics, an appendix, suggested readings, a bibliography and a glossary. Unfortunately, I wonder if some readers will find that the "high-tech storytelling" detracts from the story. Also, as I read the book, I couldn't help but ask how a boy in the 16th century acquires access to 21st century technology. Addressing this question may have added an interesting time travel element to the story. Despite these minor concerns, as a parent and librarian trying to encourage children to read, I applaud Annick Press and Laura Scandiffio for producing this creative, informative and attractive book and series for children. While some readers may consider the "high-tech storytelling" a gimmick, I embrace any technique that encourages children to read nonfiction and history.
Philip Bravo is a librarian living in Winnipeg, MB.
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