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Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History by Brianna DuMont

Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History by Brianna DuMont
(Sky Pony Press, $14.95, Ages 10 – 14)

Famous-Phonies-cvr.jpgIt’s time for some historical horizon broadening courtesy of Famous Phonies, a new nonfiction book from Brianna DuMont that will not only enlighten young readers, but will make them eager for the next book in The Changed History series. Kids will enjoy this middle grade book written in a quirky, playful tone. “It’s especially aimed at reluctant readers, but it engages the parents too. (Always a bonus!),” says DuMont and she’s spot on! And don’t you just love that cover?!

Read the review then enter our Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win one copy of the book.

Review:
Meet a dozen individuals whose legends are often larger than life: Confucius, George Washington, Pythagoras, Hiawatha, Gilgamesh, Major William Martin, William Shakespeare, Pope Joan, Homer, Prester John, Huangdi, and The Turk. Some you’ve heard of and others may initially produce a hunch of the shoulders. Either way, after reading Famous Phonies, you’ll know them all, learn how easily the facts of their lives got blown out of proportion and have a greater appreciation for the weeding out history buffs like DuMont do so that readers can see the whole picture. Plus it doesn’t hurt that she’s honed in on some fascinating details and shares them in a tongue in cheek way that middle graders will adore. The interesting factoids included for each personage also add to this book’s  appeal.

For example, how many disciples did Confucius really have – was it three thousand or seventy-two? And all this before social media! What facts were bent after his death and what were legit? Was he really over nine feet tall? I found out that Confucius’s father died a couple of years after his birth, and his wives (neither one Confucius’s birth mother) kicked him and his teen-aged birth mother out of the house. He traveled around seeking recognition, but it turns out, he wasn’t always the nicest or sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, as a result of “his nasty personality, the actual Confucius had very little influence over others during his lifetime. But that just wouldn’t do for his followers, so they decided to jazz things up after Confucius’s death.”

And George Washington, who cannot tell a lie, actually lied through his removable teeth all the time. Here’s an excellent example: “When calling upon the Continental Congress to boycott all imported goods from Britain prior to the Revolutionary War, he was secretly ordering carriages, fancy clothing, guns, and Wedgewood pottery from London for his own personal use.” It’s not that DuMont was deliberately digging only for dirt, although she does have a degree in Archaeology, it’s just that finding out the truth is easy if you look for it. It’s also fascinating.

Being a huge Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond) fan, I’d have to say my favorite chapter was the one about Major William Martin. It seems that prior to penning his novels, Fleming worked for an Admiral concocting plans to trick the enemy, aka the Axis powers during WWII. To move the direction of the war from losing to winning, Britain and America knew they had to secure the island of Sicily because, “The Axis Powers used Sicily as a base for German Luftwaffe bombers to launch surprise attacks on the rest of Mediterranean Sea, destroying anything that flew or floated past.” However, the Allies couldn’t let the enemy know that this was their ultimate goal hence the need for a major deception or in this case “disinformation,” putting out false info to fool the Axis powers. This particular ploy, #28 to be precise, was originally devised by Fleming with his boss, as part of the secret list known as the “Trout Memo.” It would be implemented by a British spy named Ewen Montague and “use a dead body as a fake spy in order to plant false information in the mind of the enemy.” Brilliant, right? Ah, but it was a lot more difficult and complicated than it sounds involving a frozen corpse, fake documents and a backstory for said dead body (Major William Martin) that would not alert the Germans to the plot. Success could mean the tides of the war might turn in favor of the Allies. I won’t give it away, but suffice it to say that DuMont’s got all the elements of a gripping spy movie here that are guaranteed to pull your child into the intrigue and excitement that grabbed me.

Okay, so you know I thought Famous Phonies was a fabulous, fun read, but I think parents, teachers and librarians will like it, too. That’s in addition to your kids, of course! Nowadays lots of students do their research online. They think Wikipedia is the be all end all, but here’s a chance to get kids engrossed with historical figures and let them see that there are multiple sources for their fact finding missions. They can read the book in one sitting, or return to it on multiple occasions absorbing one chapter at a time. DuMont’s done a wonderful job of selecting subjects whose stories are interesting, and presenting them in a middle grade friendly manner sure to entertain even the biggest history-phobe. And that’s the truth!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Turning a Dream Into Reality – The Story Behind the Creation of Mount Rushmore

I had no idea that I could learn so much from a children’s picture book, but after reading Tina Nichols Coury’s book Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore ($16.99, Dial Books for Young Readers, ages 5 and up) with its fantastic, beautifully envisioned illustrations by Sally Wern Comport, I’m convinced.

Perhaps like me, you were on a cross country teen tour when you first laid eyes on Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Or maybe you and your family were vacationing and taking in some of America’s most iconic landmarks. Whatever brought you to Mount Rushmore, I am sure it is something that you have not yet forgotten. Well neither could author Coury who was determined to share the story of “one little boy who grew up to complete one of America’s greatest monuments.”  I am so glad she did!

The book introduces us to young Lincoln Borglum, son of the renown sculptor Gutzon Borglum, and transports us back to the 1920s into his father’s art studio where he spent much of his childhood. Lincoln preferred sweeping up the studio or modeling for his father over socializing with other children his age. The family moved often for the elder Borglum’s commissions and forging friendships for a shy lad like Lincoln proved a lot less interesting than observing a master sculptor at work. 

When Gutzon Borglum shared with businessmen his idea to carve the faces of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln into a South Dakota mountain, it was welcomed as a terrific venture.  What I did not know was that originally the monument was conceived with only the above mentioned three presidents and that it was President Calvin Coolidge who suggested the addition of Teddy Roosevelt.  I also was very surprised to learn that during the half-completed  carving of Thomas Jefferson it was discovered that the “rock under Jefferson’s face was unstable.”  The entire work had been for naught and had to be demolished and begun all over again.

There are so many other interesting facts that Coury has provided, but rather than go into too much more detail here, suffice it to say that we find out Lincoln eventually chose working alongside his father on the massive monument rather than attending university. The significance of  that choice was major as it was Lincoln, after his father’s death, who would be instrumental in continuing his father’s work and seeing it to fruition. 

While I do not picture 5 year olds reading this book on their own, I do envisage parents, older siblings and librarians happily sharing the story with them. With the publication of Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose we now have a child-friendly vehicle from which to launch into our own impressions of this great monument depicting two Founding Fathers along with two other great presidents and for that alone we can be grateful. Happy Independence Day! 

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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The White House, America’s Most Recognizable Residence

Coming out this July is The House That George Built written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Rebecca Bond. Today reviewer Rita Zobayan weighs in on why she likes this new picture book.

                  Presidents’ Day may have passed, but Independence Day is just around the corner. Begin your celebration by sharing the story of one of America’s most recognizable residences: the White House.  The House That George Built ($16.95, Charlesbridge, ages 6 and up) written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Rebecca Bond  describes George Washington’s role in the building of the presidential home, which was originally referred to as the President’s House.

                  In essence, this book is almost two in one. On the left pages is more advanced, detailed text: “Then George spied a magnificent drawing with majestic columns, grand staircases, and a stately oval room. James Hoban’s design was just right and he won the contest.”  On the right pages is the simpler version: “This is the design/that would stand for all time/that was drawn for the lot/that grand, scenic spot/for the President’s House that George built.”  (You may recognize the rhyme style and the book title as a reference to the famous poem “This Is the House That Jack Built.”) The book provides information on the many aspects of this process from choosing the correct location to using the available materials in the new country to the people who worked on the house.

                  Finishing up the book are additional pages of information. One page provides the logistics of the house (35 bathrooms!) and outlines changes made to the residence, such as Theodore Roosevelt adding an outdoor tennis court in 1912 and Bill Clinton adding a hot tub and jogging track in 1993. The next page is the author’s note and elaborates on the back story of the building endeavor. For example, even though George Washington had an active hand in overseeing the process to build this structure, he is the only president to have never lived there! Lastly, sources and resources are listed, which are useful should a child wish to use this book for a report. The House That George Built is an informative and fun way to learn more about one of our nation’s most historic buildings.

                 

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