________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 15 . . . . March 29, 2002

cover Secrets in Stone: All About Maya Hieroglyphs.

Laurie Coulter. Illustrated by Sarah Jane English.
Markham, ON: Scholastic/Madison Press Books, 2001.
48 pp., pbk. & cloth, $9.99 (pbk.), $21.99 (cl.).
ISBN 0-439-98791-1 (pbk.), ISBN 0-439-98790-3 (cl.).

Subject Heading:
Mayan languages-Writing-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

**** /4


During one fierce battle, the Maya commander managed to kill the Spanish army's enormous captain with a single blow of his club. Seconds later, he watched in amazement as the dead warrior split in two. One half lay on the ground, but the other half stood up and ran towards him, his sword raised high.

Tekun Uman had never seen a horse before. He thought the animal and its rider were a single living thing. His mistake cost him his life.

Explorers, historians, epigraphers and archaeologists from all over the world have tried to decipher the messages in ancient Mayan hieroglyphs since 1839 when the lost cities of the Maya were discovered in Central America. Markings on pyramids, temples and palaces, as well as on everyday household items, provided clues, not only to Mayan history but also to the daily life of the people. This book examines the thought process by which countless codebreakers were able, over several years, to interpret the symbols (numbers, letters and pictures) that were used by an ancient civilization in order to communicate. Several contributions of the Maya are featured, the calendar perhaps being the most notable. Other contributions include the math concept of "zero," a writing system, chicle used for chewing gum (hence "Chiclets") and rubber balls, an invention which has influenced the development of games and sports worldwide.

     The text follows the codebreakers chronologically as they piece together the puzzle of the hieroglyphs. Geometric patterned borders on ochre-toned backgrounds lend an ancient flavor to the pages and provide suitable backdrops for the plentiful colour illustrations which include maps, drawings, diagrams, paintings and photographs. There is also a section devoted to secret codes, games and activities for readers to try. A "Glyphmaster," consisting of raised glyphs, found on the back inside cover and end papers, will enable readers to make rubbings for sending secret messages and making cards, signs, bookplates and stelae (monuments telling one's name, age, family history, etc). A glossary, index and a selected bibliography are also provided.

     Not just for history buffs, this fascinating book, with its centuries-old code-cracking mystery, will appeal to many readers.

Highly Recommended.

Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364