Monday, February 7, 2011

Showing my age

Okay. Where to start with this one?  Right, all the stuff I like…

Cleopatra rules!: the amazing life of the original teen queen by Vicky Alvear Shecter (932 ShC 2009) is a very interesting read.  Mostly, it’s interesting because of the topic.  What’s not to find fascinating about Cleopatra?  I love history in general and stuff about ancient Egypt, specifically.  I’ve read other books about Cleopatra and had really looked forward to this one, especially after reading a couple of blogs that raved about it.

And it is good.  It is right on the money, making sure we know that Cleopatra’s history was written by men (Romans) who were not looking to give her a fair shake.  These historians and politicians looked at her as the enemy and it was not in their interests to have future generations look at her favorably.  Right on!   This is an important point that often gets lost in history books -- that the writers of history have their own perspectives, agendas, and contexts that don’t necessarily endorse objectivity.

I also enjoyed the variety of illustrations starting with the cover (wow!) which includes photographs of Egyptian art, sculpture and modern representations of Cleopatra as well.  The modern art pieces depict and reaffirm how generations have viewed Cleopatra as a ‘seductress,’ as first promoted by the Romans.

The text includes lots of boxed asides providing relevant details for contextual understanding of the people, the places, crucial historical points and cultural information.

Now, for the aspect I have a bit more trouble with.  Overall, the writing is sound and fun to read.  I often like books with a chatty tone but I just found this one a bit too over-the-top with too many slangy-phrases.  Here are just a few examples:

 “…chilled at the Great Library of Alexandria…” (p.15 )

about brothers and sisters marrying  “…ewww! factor…it’s easy to imagine the sounds of her gagging echoing throughout the marble-columned halls…” (p.16)

 “We moderns gag at the very idea.  But for ancient Egyptian royal families, it was as natural as the annual Nile flood – though its origins were just as murky…Egyptian religion may have made brother-sister marriages seem ‘natural,’ but we know better.  They served a political purpose: to keep the ruling family in control of the throne.  It was a power play – one that, to us moderns anyway seems powerfully gross!” (p.21) 

 “Cleopatra’s little sister, Arsinoe, and little brother Ptolemy XIII wanted a piece of the power pie for themselves.  That meant getting rid of Cleopatra.  So the pair trashed-talked her worse than feuding starlets at a Hollywood club.” (p.31)

I wondered who this would best appeal to.  Two review journals, Booklist suggest grades 4 to 7 and School Library Journal for grade 6 and up.  So, we’re looking at the tween crowd. 

I sent the book home with a colleague for her teen daughter, so I didn’t get the book to the target age but I thought it would be worth soliciting her opinion anyway.  In the end, she just wanted to take in the information without the distraction of the language.

Next, I presented the book at a monthly book club meeting we hold in the Doucette Library (not a ‘real’ book club, we just highlight good books to education students).  My question to them was “Who would find this appealing?”  Without reading the book, they too thought the language distracting but conceded that younger girls might be drawn into the book.  Mostly they thought that if someone was interested enough to pick the book up in the first place they wouldn’t need the ‘inducement’ of contemporary language and metaphors to keep reading it.

So, I’m feeling my age.  I hope that girls ages 9 to 12 will enjoy this book and be drawn into the life of a fascinating woman.   If it achieves this, then who am I to complain.

So, I’m feeling my age.  I hope that girls ages 9 to 12 will enjoy this book and be drawn into the life of a fascinating woman.   If it achieves this, then who am I to complain.

Today is Nonfiction Monday at Wild About Nature.  This is a round-up of nonfiction children's literature from around the blog-o-sphere.  Well worth checking out.


Template Design | Elque 2007