CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002
Unusual tunnels from history which were used for such purposes as transportation, escape, mining and secret entry are described in this 32 page collection for recreational reading. All the tunnels, with the exception of one in the mythical tale of Theseus and the Minotaur, actually existed or still exist. All tunnels were man-made, with the exception of the mole's excavations (which seems rather out of place in this grouping). Each account is presented in a visually appealing, double-page spread with numerous facts and well-captioned, cartoon-style illustrations in watercolour that dominate the pages. Two sections include simple activities. The examples are arranged chronologically from ancient past to present.
The book contains a brief introduction, a Table of Contents with characters and captions to pique curiosity and a warning to kids about the dangers of tunneling. Following the main text which reads briskly like magazine articles, four pages of additional information flesh out the details. For example, "An Underground Escape" describes the digging of the tunnel to freedom by World War II prisoners in Stalag Luft III while the back matter explains the clever way the men disposed of the sand so it would not be detected. The author uses present tense for a "you-are-there" feel throughout the main text (except for the myth) and past tense for illustration captions and back matter.
While the vocabulary is accessible at about a grade 4/5 reading level, this is also a good read-aloud choice with sufficient "wow" factor material to intrigue young listeners (even adults) and to initiate discussion or research. Many of the tunnels will be unknown to kids. Only a couple of them are still active: the mail system still used in Prague after 100 years, and the salt mine in Poland. However, kids could be motivated to compare tunnels they have heard of or might actually visit, eg. undersea car tunnels, the subway, railroad spiral tunnels, etc.
A couple of websites are included in the back matter: they were still active at the time of this writing. An index and extensive acknowledgments complete this interesting book.
Gillian Richardson is a former teacher-librarian and a published children's writer of fiction and nonfiction, living in BC.
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