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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The First Americans, a review

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The First Americans

by Kelly Bakshi

Available from Guardian Angel Publishing

Print ISBN: 9781616332785 $9.95

eBook ISBN: 9781616332792 $5

I would suggest it for grades 3-5.  Older children may also enjoy this book.

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this ebook from the author for review purposes.  I received no other compensation.  The opinions reflected here are my own and those of my kids.  Am I biased?  Yup.  All human beings are.  I do try to give you a balanced view of the product and its relative strengths and weaknesses.

Kelly Bakshi is a social studies teacher turned  stay-at-home-mama.  When she asked me to try out her new book with my 7th grader, I readily agreed.  The world needs more texts aimed at middle schoolers, and I’m always happy to be introduced to new possibilities for my eager reader.

The First Americans contains:

  • 13 pages of text with at least one full-color picture on most pages
  • a review activity in the form of a word search with fill-in-the-blank style clues to know what words you are looking for
  • a short bibliography of books used, videos available from Discovery Education, plus a list of websites to visit for more information

Since this book is designed for kids in the 6th-8th grade range, let’s hear what my 7th grader has to say.

David’s Review

It’s a well written textbook, much better than most.  It is well paced, very interesting, and not completely boring, but the reading level seems a bit below me. 

Somehow you have taken a little hop through time, and you’re talking to Ahna of the Inuit tribe about how to survive in freezing temperatures without radiators, hot chocolate, or even video games.  Later you will also meet Quigaltanqui of the Natchez tribe, who will teach you how to keep cool in the warm Southeast.

For fun, the native Americans played a primitive version of lacrosse, tug-of-war, wrestling, and told stories.  They also had a game where everyone would use a huge blanket to toss the smaller children up in the air.  Burn the Xbox!  Go have a footrace!

Basically, it explains the different ways of life, through the explanations of the tribe members themselves.  The book also includes a nice word search for review. 

I think that it would be a great choice for part of a unit study on North America for younger kids. 

Overall, I give it a three and a half out of a five star rating.  Very nice.

Susan’s Review

Let me preface my observations by saying:  I don’t now, nor have I ever claimed that my kids are average or typical.  I don’t know how average they are.  When it comes to language skills, they are perhaps a little advanced, so please take my observations with a grain of salt. 

The First Americans is a quick read, probably written at about a 5th grade level.  The chapters are nice and short (about 1-2 pages each). David was able to read the book in less than 20 minutes.  It would be best suited for grades 3-5, either as a read aloud or for independent reading.

It is ideally suited for children, say grades 3-4, who are reading at a higher level (my 3rd grader currently reads at about a 6th grade level) and have a hard time finding materials that both challenge them and are not too mature for their gentle sensibilities.

For a better idea of the reading level, you can see a 2-page sample of The First Americans at Guardian Angel Publishing.

David enjoyed the conversational style of The First Americans and didn’t mind the reading level, but I got the impression that he was expecting more from the text---more detail and more of a mental challenge.

He also noted some errors (mainly typographical) that he didn’t expect to see in a short book.  Another edit would be a good idea.

Of course, the book could simply be used as a jumping off point for additional research. 

The word search review activity, which gives clues of the type typically used for review crosswords, is a nice hybrid.  It’s a little more challenging than a crossword, which would give you the number of letters in each answer and hints where the words cross.  But, I’d still put it firmly in the mid to upper elementary range.  So, again, ideally suited for grades 3-5.

Right around grades 5-6, most kids seem to make a cognitive lead.  So, for middle school kids, I’d expect to see more in the way of open-ended questions to really get them thinking about the material and making connections.  Suggestions for other open-ended activities, or research ideas for further exploring the topic, and a larger bibliography of available resources would also be welcome.

Our Overall Recommendations

We recommend The First Americans as a good “living book” type resource for grades 3-5, either as a read aloud or for independent reading for kids reading at a 5th grade reading level or higher.

Older children may also enjoy it, and it could be a good springboard for further research, or a welcome addition to a unit study on ancient native Americans---in fact, I think I’ll be using it with my younger children when we study ancient world history in a year or so.

Kelly mentioned that she plans to write more books, so be on the look-out for those.

The First Americans can be purchased in print or in ebook form from Guardian Angel Publishing as part of the Academic Wings series.

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