CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 13 . . . . March 2, 2001
Linda Bailey. Illustrated by Bill Slavin.
Grades 3 - 7 /Ages 8 - 12.
Adventures in Ancient Egypt.With its comic book cum travel guide format, cleverly combining fact and fiction, these books are sure to hook both avid and reluctant readers. While babysitting their younger sister, Libby, twins Josh and Emma Binkerton find themselves following her into the Good Times Travel Agency, a creepy and grimy office whose eccentric proprietor, Julian T. Pettigrew, is equally weird. Travel guides line a huge bookshelf. As the children open the guidebook to ancient Egypt, their adventure begins. They are propelled back in time, and, by so doing, they find themselves in the days of the pharaohs. The guide stipulates that there is no going back home until they have read the entire book. In a case of mistaken identity, Josh is hauled away to go to work for the king. His sisters spend the rest of their time travel journey looking for him. Working as servants, the girls search the town in their spare time and learn a great deal about Egyptian life in the process. Topics include homes, schools, travel, food, pyramids and mummies.
In the Middle Ages title, the kids revisit the travel agency to fulfill Josh's wish of becoming a knight. As the children are whisked back in time, they learn about the contrasts between the lives of the peasants and the nobility. When the kids experience not one, but two misfortunes (they find themselves in the middle of a siege and their guidebook is stolen), they take matters into their own hands in order to save the castle and to retrieve the guidebook from one of their attackers so they can get back home.
The books' format is very successful for a number of reasons. Colourful comics with short dialogue will appeal to reluctant readers, and yet there is a considerable amount of information in the guidebook section at the bottom of each page. As well, the books can be read in a variety of ways--readers can choose to read only the fictional part from start to finish; they can read just the guidebook; or, they can read the story and then the accompanying information in the guidebook on each page as they go along. In fact, reading the parts separately, then, later, together, reinforces understanding of the information provided and allows for enjoyment on two levels.
Bailey presents both the story and the non-fictional guidebook in a familiar style that employs kids' language and a large dose of humour. She cleverly leaves the door open for more adventures of the Binkertons because each time the kids return a volume to the travel agency, the text hints that this will not be their last visit. The comic illustrations suit the text well, echoing its humour with small details that readers will notice with each subsequent reading of the book. A single page at the back provides additional information about the historical time period featured.
A unique and successful concept and an enjoyable read.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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