American History: Fresh Squeezed
by Carol Diggory Shields
American history comes alive in a variety of informational titles. Carol Diggory Shields condenses history into 41 short poems in Brainjuice: American History Fresh Squeezed!, illus. by Richard Thompson, beginning with, appropriately, "The First," a ditty about dinosaurs ("The first Americans who roamed the prairie/ Were kind of big and kind of scary") and ending with "The Lady," a paean to the Statue of Liberty, which Shields casts as witness to the destruction of the World Trade Center. Poems about the Wright brothers, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and "The Great War" (WWI) are among the poems that fall along the timeline that runs at the top of the pages. Thompson, a political cartoonist, offers appropriate doses of humor and poignancy. Ages 7-up.
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School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-These more than 40 short poems, filled with humor high and low, don't really attempt to teach about the events, but they offer amusing commentary on them. Like fractured fairy tales, they are best read by those already familiar with the material referenced, in this case, U.S. history from the dinosaur age ("The first Americans who roamed the prairie/Were kind of big and kind of scary") to the present day (the close call election of 2000 shows George W. as a jack-in-the-box, popping out of a ballot box). The tone takes a serious turn at the Trail of Tears, both World Wars (although Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini are each described as being "worse than a movie meanie"), and the fall of the World Trade Center Towers. The poems may not be great literature, but there are more hits than misses, and the irreverent tone will appeal to older kids. A time line runs along the top of each page, covering items important (the Industrial Revolution) and intriguing (1938 states, "Radio drama of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds causes national panic"). Numerous pen-and-ink drawings add style and fun. Like all good cartoonists, Thompson knows how to do a lot with a little, and makes it look effortless as well. Creative teachers will find a multitude of uses for this book. Kids may enjoy writing their own poems about historical events. Recent studies show a general lack of interest in and knowledge of history. Brain Juice may help counteract this trend.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL
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