Ancient Romans, Alphamaniacs, and Incredible Jobs

Three illustrated non-fiction books share fascinating information about ancient cultures, unusual wordsmiths, and careers you might not have considered.

Ancient Romans and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide by Simonetta Carr. Chicago Review Press, 2019, 150 pages.

Reading Level: ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-12

The ancient Romans, Etruscans, Celts, and Carthaginians left a rich record of their history and culture woven through stories, artifacts, and architecture. It is remarkable how much we can know about their daily lives. Ancient Romans and Their Neighbors consists of four parts, each containing brief chapters on history, architecture, clothing, writing, art and music, religion, government and warfare, daily life, and food.

Carr has done a really nice job of blending an engaging text with activities that children can mostly do independently, whether they are looking for an educational project or just something to do on a cold, wet day. The topical chapters are relatively short, a good length for reading aloud, and each is followed by a craft, game, or food. An excellent resource for a home or school library.

Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

Alphamaniacs by Paul Fleischman, art by Melissa Sweet.  Candlewick Studio, 2020, 144 pages.

Reading Level: Ages 12-15

Recommended for: Ages 12-15

Paul Fleischman, (winner of the Newbery medal for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices) takes the role of master of ceremonies in introducing twenty-six writers and linguists who bent the boundaries of wordcraft. One man tells stories using only “words” found on license plates. Another invented Klingon, to the delight of Star Trek fans forever. How many ways can you write the letter “A”? Can you create more than a thousand variations? If you wrote thousands of novels, would you run out of ideas? Could you write an entire book without the letter “e”? Use the sound of words to write a musical fugue?

These individuals had a fascinating obsession, to be sure. You will never look at or listen to words the same way again.

  • Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)
  • Consideration: Several of the writers included erotica in their canon, so you might not want to read their collected works. The chapter about the linguist who documented “Strine” (the Australian version of English) includes “sex” (meaning “sacks”) in the list of what you hear compared with what is intended.

Incredible Jobs You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of by Natalie Labarre. Nosy Crow (Candlewick Press), 2020, unpaged.

Reading Level: Ages 10-12

Recommended for: Ages 10-12

There are ordinary jobs: doctor, lawyer, teacher, athlete. And then there are jobs that take a unique combination of interests, skills, and cultural setting. I’m not sure many of them require college degrees, but how exactly do you find a job as a water slide tester?!

In an oversized, vibrant, engaging book, readers will find plenty of unexpected careers. Someone has to come up with those catchy nail polish names. Would you like to be a train pusher in Japan? How do you advertise your services as a line sitter? If you have sensitive taste buds or olfactory senses, there are opportunities for you…but you may not want them.

Rest assured, whatever your natural talent might be, it needn’t go to waste. If the right job isn’t out there yet, you might still be able to invent one that no one else has (probably) thought of.

  • Overall rating: 4 (out of 5)
  • Considerations: One mention of 145 million years.

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Megan is Associate Editor for Redeemed Reader who loves nothing more than helping readers (and non-readers) find books which are not only a good fit for them, but also combine Truth and Story. She has never regretted reading all those fairy tales in childhood, even though she didn’t realize at the time how much they matter to real life. She is the founder of Literaritea Press and plans to publish her first picture book soon. Megan lives with her husband and five boys in Virginia where she enjoys knitting, playing with words, and mountain views.

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