Sugar Changed The World

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by the husband-and-wife team of Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos is a riveting account of how the human craving for sweets led to the development of a product that has quite literally changed the course of history. This book was nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category.

Aronson and Budhos start out with a prologue explaining how personal history drove them to research this book. It turns out that each of them had a tie to sugar processing, Aronson’s through an aunt by marriage and Budhos through her Indian ancestors who moved to Guyana in South America to work on the sugar plantations. Discovering these commonalities led them to want to learn more about the history of sugar.

And what a history it is. Sugar cane was thought to have originated in New Guinea and from there spread to India, where it was used in Hindu ceremonies. Over time, the Indians developed techniques to extract and refine the sugar. By the 600s (AD)  sugar was spreading through the Islamic regions, and in the 1200s the Egyptians invented a technique for refining sugar to a pure white form. Once Columbus took sugar cane to the island of Hispaniola in the New World, things start to heat up with the development of sugar cane plantations throughout the Caribbean.

Sugar cane is a difficult crop to harvest, and it must be done quickly because the sugar content of the plant drops rapidly once it is cut. Sugar cane required a vast workforce and the landowners turned to slavery to provide it. Although we often associate cotton with slavery, Aronson and Budhos make a compelling argument that sugar cane was crop that truly led millions to suffer, in some areas even up to modern day. The authors give many details of what life was like for the slaves. They even researched the music and dance that the slaves developed on the plantations and provide sound and video clips on their website.

The power of sugar began to wane, however, when people began to worry about the health effects of eating too much. The authors also point out that not all the changes were negative ones, and now technology has made the processing of sugar cane less arduous (see video below).

In the back of the book is an essay entitled, “How We Researched and Wrote this Book,” giving insights how tangled up together history is and how it should be presented with some of the messiness intact instead of as separate events. The authors also have compiled extensive “Notes and Sources” where they reveal how they arrived at their versions of events. Quite possibly they should have added their prologue here. It seems out of place at the beginning, and it ties in nicely with the personal tone of the back sections.

Sugar Changed the World is not a quick read. It is full of so full details it requires quite a bit of processing itself. It would be a fantastic supplement to a world history course, or even a course unto itself. Students interested in history are going to love this book. For teachers, it’s a valuable resource for courses outside of history, as well. The accompanying Teacher’s Guide has science lessons, as well as history, geography and economics. In any case, you will never look at sugar in quite the same way.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear what you think of it.

In this video is a fascinating look at how juice is extracted from sugar cane in India to be used as a beverage.

This How Its Made episode shows the modern equipment now used to make sugar.

Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Clarion Books; 1 edition (November 15, 2010)ISBN-10: 0618574921
ISBN-13: 978-0618574926

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Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. For more information and a schedule, stop by the new Nonfiction Monday blog to see who is hosting each week.

This week’s post is at Practically Paradise.

Prince William & Kate: A Royal Romance

Today I’m starting to review books for the 2011 Cybils Middle Grade and Young Adult nonfiction category. Some of the books, like this one, might not be my usual subject matter, but I’m looking forward to trying new things. Don’t forget, the Cybils lists of nominated books are great ways to find new reading materials in all different genre’s, including for the first time this year:  book apps.

Prince William & Kate: A Royal Romance by Matt Doeden captures the excitement of the lives of William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales (Prince William) and  Catherine Elizabeth Middleton (Kate), culminating in their marriage on April 29, 2011.

You would have to pretty much be living on a deserted island not to know about the marriage of Prince William and Kate. Doeden has written an easy-to-read summary of their lives up to this point. It is well illustrated with a nice selection of color photographs that show points in Prince William and Kate’s childhoods that children are sure to relate to, such as going to Disney World and playing soccer. In stark contrast is the event that hopefully most children won’t be able to relate to, the tragic death of Princess Diana, Prince William’s mother. The photograph of Prince William walking with his father, grandfather, uncle and brother in his mother’s funeral procession is heartrending.

Given that celebrities like Prince William and Kate live with constant scrutiny, they understandably guard their private lives. This creates a difficulty for a biographer, who has access to reams of public information to sort through, but very little inside information. The result is a nicely polished overview that necessarily lacks genuine depth and insight into its subjects’ characters.

Children who are interested in Prince William and Kate or who are looking for information for a report on the couple will find the book useful and absorbing. Adults who want to quickly brush up on the lives of the royal couple should also give it a try.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Lerner Classroom (October 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0761380302
ISBN-13: 978-0761380306

Cybils Are Here!

Have you noticed an air of excitement around the children’s book community? It’s because it is Cybils time again!

What are Cybils? The acronym stands for children’s and young adult bloggers literary awards. Bloggers who specialize in children’s and young adult books have developed the Cybils awards to highlight some of the best books published in the previous year. Right now you can nominate your favorite books by genre, until October 15, 2011.

Once the lists are complete, the Round I Panelists read all the books nominated and blog like crazy. They will narrow the list down, and then in the end of December, pass their picks to the Second Round Judges. Those judges deliberate in secret and their choices are revealed in February.

I am happy to announce that this year I have been chosen to be a Round 1 Panelist for the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction category. My fellow panelists are:

Round One Panelists

Sarah Rettger
Archimedes Forgets

Kara Dean
Not Just for Kids

Karen Ball
Ms. B’s Favorites

Jennifer Rothschild
Biblio File

Ed Sullivan
Rogue Librarian

Louise Capizzo
The Non-Fiction Detectives

Be sure to visit their blogs for Cybils reviews.

In the Nonfiction MG/YA category, the Round 2 Judges will be:

Carol Rasco
Rasco from Rif

Margo Tannenbaum
The Fourth Musketeer

Colleen Mondor
Chasing Ray

Ritchie Partington
Ritchie’s Picks

Sarah Sammis
Puss Reboots

Did you nominate a book yet? I’d love to hear what you nominated and why.

Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers

When I saw Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke, I knew my family would be interested. Ever since we had read about the development of the oddly named but fascinating Electronic Sackbut, we have been enjoying the technology/invention side of musical instruments.

VanHecke’s book covers the invention and development of eight of America’s biggest musical instrument companies, including:

  • Zildjian cymbals
  • Steinway pianos
  • C.G. Conn band instruments
  • C.F. Martin guitars
  • William Ludwig drums
  • Hammond electronic organs
  • Fender Electric Guitar
  • Bob Moog synthesizers

The book includes numerous photographs, including some in color. According to the promotional materials, there are over 200 images.

Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers will appeal to motivated middle grade students as well as young adults. It is likely to intrigue not only musicians, but also those interested in science/technology or history. In fact, in “A Closing Note,” the author mentions Ben Franklin’s invention of the armonica, which we had read about in Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom from A to Z by Alan Schroeder.

Part of the proceeds from the book are donated to the music-in-schools advocacy group

Hardcover: 140 pages
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press (April 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1590785746
ISBN-13: 978-1590785744

Be sure to look for more information about children’s books at today’s Book Talk Tuesday.