CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 3 . . . . October 1, 2004
Like many young readers who have not yet discovered their exploits, the three Binkerton siblings, twins Josh and Emma and preschool Libby, are not the most enthusiastic students of history. This sixth "Good Times Travel Agency" book once again finds them reluctantly entering the establishment of Julian T. Pettigrew to be presented with a travel guide and sent on an adventure to the past, this time to the Ice Age. Cool! Of course, getting back home depends on fitting in with the resident prehistoric people, surviving encounters with woolly rhinoceros, and persuading their hosts to show them cave paintings.
Linda Bailey and Bill Slavin offer their readers a great introduction to the ice age via likable characters, humour, and light, bright text;
The colourful cartoon illustrations and format, with the more factual information positioned below the illustrations as part of the guide book, not only make reading a breeze, but provide information on a variety of levels. This latest adventure, being "pre-history," offers less of the rich social history of the earlier books on the Vikings, the Middle Ages, and ancient Greece, Egypt and China. But it does cover the highlights of the Ice Age, including brief introductions to what is known about early modern human life, including tools, dwellings, clothing, cooking, social life music, art and hunting, as well as information on climate, animals of the ice age, and the mystery surrounding the extinction of the Mammoth.
There are trade-offs to combining information and fictional fun. Portraying characters as buffoonish, and highlighting the disgusting, both essential to making cartoons work, mean that young readers may not be challenged to see early people as worthy of their respect rather than revulsion. The Binkertons and their readers probably do not come away with a sense of what they share in common with early people, only how they differ. Nor does the snappy one-liner style of humour necessarily accommodate discussions about the limits of contemporary knowledge on the topic and the importance of delving deeper to learn more. It would also be unfortunate if readers were left with the impression that early humans spoke English, as they do in this book. To be fair, a post script stating that the story is primarily fictional, and that there exists a continued search for new scientific information, is included. And to expect one book to accomplish a full range of learning objectives is unfair, especially one so successful at sparking interest in a topic that might not otherwise exist. But to encourage readers to develop their knowledge on the topic, a bibliography, recommended readings, website links, and even key words for library searches would be enormous assets.
Adventures in the Ice Age and the "Good Times Travel Agency" series remain appealing and unique introductions to social history for any young reader but also for "info-kids" who immerse themselves in specific nonfiction topics and the reluctant reader. These books are a wonderful asset to any library or as a great recreational read, especially paired up with other books on ice age animals and early people.
Lori Walker is writing middle school nonfiction based on her doctoral work at Simon Fraser University, and is completing a Masters in Children's Literature at UBC.
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