CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008
Who Discovered America?
Valerie Wyatt. Illustrated by Howie Woo.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2008.
40 pp., pbk. & hc., $8.95 (pbk.), $17.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55453-129-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55453-128-8 (hc.).
America-Discovery and exploration-Pre-Columbian-Juvenile literature.
America-Discovery and exploration-Juvenile literature.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Greg Bak.
Imagine discovering a completely new land. You would set foot on soil that had never been marked with a human footprint. Your eyes would see sights that no one had seen before. You would be the first.
Now imagine that that land was America.
Who discovered America? Well, it wasn't Christopher Columbus. Valerie Wyatt dispenses with his claim at the outset. If not Columbus, then who?
Starting in 1492 and working backward, Wyatt gives every candidate their two-page spread, laying out their case for discovery… and then revealing an earlier claimant, also with a compelling case. From 1492 back through the Middle Ages, jumping from Europe to Asia and back again, into prehistory, back and forth between Asia and Europe. The Bering land bridge, it turns out, isn't nearly old enough to account for the arrival of the first people in the Americas – it didn't exist 12,000 years ago. Back and back further, tracing costal routes from Asia and sea routes from Europe, until we arrive in a section titled "Long ago and far out," in which controversial evidence of human habitation is provided from 40,000 years ago.
Who Discovered America? is book is well-written, nicely illustrated and well produced. An adult can read it in one sitting – the story unfolds at the compelling pace of a whodunit plot – and learn a lot. It will not appeal to all children as it is quite text heavy, despite the abundant illustrations. Nonetheless, this is an important book to have available because it is the kind of book with which a certain sort of reader will latch on to and fall in love.
A complicated story is streamlined and told in simple language, all the while entertaining the possibility of multiple interpretations of virtually all of the historic and prehistoric evidence. The scope and span of human prehistory is made apparent while specific details of prehistoric human cultures are teased out and described in familiar terms. Those readers who fall under the spell Wyatt's book are likely to read it multiple times and then move on to more works about prehistory, and then start to lecture the adults around them about what distinguishes Clovis culture from Solutrean. These children need books written for their level of comprehension and engagement, and this is one of them.
Greg Bak is an archivist with Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, ON.
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