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Shackles From The Deep by Michael H. Cottman

Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship,
a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy
by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael H. Cottman
(National Geographic Kids; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred review – Booklist

cover image off Shackles From The Deep by Michael H. Cottman


A fascinating and fast read, Michael H. Cottman’s compelling Shackles From The Deep will open middle grade readers’ eyes and minds to the abhorrent “international business” that was the slave trade. In 22 brief but gripping chapters, Cottman, an avid scuba diver, goes in search of the dark history behind the 17th century slave ship called the Henrietta Marie. Through diving below the surface and delving above the surface with the help of a dedicated team of professionals, Cottman learns not only about “the bitter past” that shrouded the ship, but about himself and the African people forced into slavery who could very well have been his ancestors. 

Possibly the world’s oldest slave ship discovery, and certainly the oldest in North America, the Henrietta Marie and its bounty of watch bell, iron cannon, and iron shackles helped shed light on the inhumane industry that ripped West Africans from their homes, separated families, and brought them against their will to places such as Barbados and Jamaica to work on plantations. This slave ship, found accidentally while looking for a different wreck, had been torn apart during a hurricane off Key West in Florida in the 1700s. 

Cottman’s journey to find answers about the individuals who captained the ship, commissioned the ship’s slave cargo, and made the shackles and weapons on board led him to three continents over four years. And though he was never able to find definitive proof of who exactly might have been carried below deck in wretched conditions for months on end, Cottman did meet a family in Jamaica whose roots likely could be traced back to the Henrietta Marie if those records were available. One of the most moving parts of Shackles From The Deep was when Cottman travelled to Senegal and toured Gorée Island. There he visited the House of Slaves, built in 1526, and home to the infamous Door of No Return named as such because those enslaved Africans leaving through it never ever came back.

Cottman felt it was important to retrace the route the Henrietta Marie would have taken and, by taking us along with him as engaged readers, we quickly learn why. Tearing families apart and treating them like animals made no sense as one missionary’s account detailed:

The English take very little care of their slaves and feed them very badly …The overseers make them work
beyond measure and beat them mercilessly…and they seem to care less for the life of a Negro than a horse.

Ending his journey in Africa where it all began after those earlier visits to Barbardos, Jamaica and England, provided a way for Cottman to return through that Door of No Return on behalf of all the unfortunate souls who never had the chance. The story ends, having come full circle from the initial discovery, with the author’s visit to an underwater memorial at the wreckage site of the Henrietta Marie. 

“I had learned that the site of the wreck is a place where I am never really alone,
a place where I feel connected to my past and ancestors. I had learned that lasting
friendships can be forged––regardless of racial backgrounds––even while exploring a sunken slave ship.”

There are several ways for readers to approach this well-written narrative nonfiction novel. From the sheer storytelling perspective, it is completely absorbing and satisfying, in fact I read it in one sitting. As a page turning detective novel, it’s rich in detail with Cottman’s journalistic abilities highlighted as he asks the right questions and tracks down individuals around the globe to piece together the puzzle that is the Henrietta Marie. When children read Shackles From the Deep they will gain a better understanding of slavery and the dehumanization of people that was perpetrated for 300 years, and hopefully be the force to prevent such cruelty from ever happening again.

Click here to visit Michael H. Cottman’s website.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel




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Weird but true! FOOD from National Geographic Kids

Weird but true! FOOD:
300 bite-size facts about incredible edibles!
by National Geographic Kids
(National Geographic Children’s Books; $7.99, Ages 8-12)
PLUS: A Rafflecopter Giveaway for three books!


It’s very easy to understand the ongoing popularity of the Weird But True! fact-filled paperback book series. They’re inexpensive, portable, packed with fab photos, and are always excellent entertainment. Likely “weird” is a word you hear often at home from your 8-12 year olds, so why not give them this book to help them refocus their energy onto things genuinely incredible or unusual.

Interior spread from Weird but true! Food, National Geographic Children’s Books, ©2015.


Here are some facts I found fascinating, funny and/or very WEIRD:

1. Mycophobia is the fear of mushrooms. Use that next time you play hangman!

2. The Carolina Reaper is the world’s hottest chili pepper.

3. Breakfast waffles inspired the co-founder of Nike to put a bumpy tread on running shoes.

Interior spread from Weird but true! Food, National Geographic Children’s Books, ©2015.

4. Los Angeles recently passed a resolution encouraging people not to eat meat on Mondays. I live in L.A. and didn’t even know about this one!

5. On the International Space Station 93 percent of the astronaut’s sweat and urine is recycled into drinking water.


Interior spread from Weird but true! Food, National Geographic Children’s Books, ©2015.


Consider giving your tween a copy of Weird but true! Food as an alternative to electronics. It’s educational, interesting, and a great way to amuse friends. How many of us can honestly say we knew that the Ancient Egyptians “ate ham and eggs for breakfast more than 3,000 years ago,” or that it takes “about 350 squirts from a cow’s udder to make one gallon of milk?” Udderly weird but true, and that’s okay! In fact, did you know that “okay” is the most understood word in the world? Yep, but you’ll have to pick up a copy of Weird but true! Food: 300 bite-size facts about incredible edibles! to find out the second most understood word.

Click here for the Kids’ National Geographic website for games, videos and more.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY – See below. Enter then follow us on Facebook at for an extra 3 entries into the giveaway. GOOD LUCK!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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National Geographic Educates Kids of All Ages in Many Creative Ways

Debbie Glade has looked at 5 different National Geographic books and reviews them all here today.

6300526Everyone adores National Geographic, including me! So I was thrilled to dive right into a stack of National Geographic Kids books. We’ll start with the two short, paperback, Easy-to-Read books for Curious Kids. Trucks! (Level 1 reader, $3.99) by Wil Mara will satisfy the interests of the child(ren) you know who can’t stop playing with and talking about trucks. Slick, the truck driver, teaches kids about all kinds of different trucks, from cement trucks to mixers and from haulers to big rigs. The book has large photographs rather than illustrations and adds simple copy ideal for the early reader.

6300528Mummies (Level 2 reader, $3.99) by Elizabeth Carney is a little bit creepy in all the right ways. There are both photographs and illustrations of mummies, plus basic information that a young reader wants to know. (The book is not for the faint of heart because it mentions bodies decaying, removing organs for mummification and other gory, but fascinating facts.) I like that this book introduces kids to ancient Egypt and the origin of mummification. At the back of the book is a simple fill in the blank page so readers can use the science words they learned.

6300582Now on to the two paperback Picture the Seasons books by Jill Esbaum. Being an avid gardener myself, I treasure books like these that teach young readers a bit about what it takes to grow food. Seed Sprout, Pumpkin, Pie ($5.95, ages 4-8) is a simple book all about pumpkins and squash. From planting, flowering and growing to how the vegetables are used in our food (and as jack-o-lanterns), Pumpkin Pie will introduce early readers to the world of pumpkins. Apples for Everyone will take the reader on a journey from planting to harvesting and from bobbing to eating apples. I learned what I had already suspected; apples are eaten in America more than any other fruit. I eat at least one a day and so should you! The photographs are wonderful in both of these straightforward books.

6300519Being an author myself, who wrote a book about bugs, I am fascinated with Science Fair Winners: Bug Science ($12.95, ages 11-14) by Karen Romano Young. This book is for middle readers who need ideas for their science fair projects. The book has cute illustrations by David Goldin and contains 20 different workshops for getting acquainted with bugs and using what you learned for a science fair project. I was instantly attracted to Workshop #4 “Honey Help Me with this Hay Fever,” because I have lessened my own allergy symptoms by eating a lot of local honey. Honey contains pollen, and eating local pollen is said to be similar to getting allergy shots. Among the many other great lessons in Bug Science are: trying to make an ant get lost, learning what color a butterfly likes best, composting with worms, studying spider phobias and many others. At the end of the book is a short chapter about presenting your findings. I love Science Fair Winners: Bug Science. It’s fun and educational, and it gets kids thinking creatively when it comes time to do their rite-of-passage science fair projects. I wish we had this book when my daughter was doing her science fair project years ago trying to prove that mint repels ants. (And it does!)

debbieglade1-150x150Debbie Glade, today’s guest reviewer, is the author, illustrator and voice talent of the award-winning children’s picture book The Travel Adventures of Lilly P Badilly: Costa Rica, published by Smart Poodle Publishing. She visits South Florida schools with her reading, writing and geography programs. For years, Debbie was a travel writer for luxury cruise lines. She writes parenting articles for various websites and is the Geography Awareness Editor for She blogs daily at

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