One can get teens to willingly read history by focusing on some of history's most wicked characters such as Vlad the Impaler and Tomas de Torquemada in these easy-to-read little books with eye-catching covers. They provide brief biographies as well as an overview of the historical context in which they lived. Although both were involved in violent acts, the context serves to humanize them and avoid over-sensationalizing the events. Vlad, for example, had a violent childhood, was betrayed by others, and spent many years as a prisoner of the Turks. Many of his later atrocities were in retaliation for the cruelty done to his family during his childhood or as a method of attempting to scare off the much larger and more powerful Ottoman Empire. Torquemada genuinely believed that he was doing God's work, and although he approved of torture, he was very devout in his faith, seeing the torment as a way of saving souls. The texts include several visual aides such as maps and chronologies to help understand the events. Also included are historical images and paintings of the people and events in a midsection, although the images are not captioned in the main text and the credits only list copyright and not the artist or creation date. Also included are lists of both further reading and sources, but there are no citations, even on quoted dialogue. Other titles in the series profile Genghis Khan and Rasputin. Reviewer: Teresa Copeland
Children's Literature - L. A. Gallaway
Was Grigory Rasputin truly wicked? Was he a holy or insane? This book, part of "A Wicked History" series, invites young adult readers to think about these questions as they read the simply told biography of Grigory Rasputin. Rasputin was born a peasant in Siberia in 1869. He went on to lead a life that vacillated between spiritual enlightenment and corruption. His reputation as a saint with healing powers gave him both great influence among the leaders of Russia and great opportunity for corruption. The story of his life is told in a straight forward manner. The book is generously illustrated with drawings, real pictures, maps, and charts that further clarify the story and give the reader a tangible sense of the setting and context of the story. The support for the reader and the intrigue of the story make this a good candidate for hi/lo reading experiences. Best of all, one of the main purposes of the biography is to get the reader involved. It is written in a way that could support a variety of opinions about Rasputin and the way he led his life. The book begins and ends by asking the readers what they think. Reviewer: L. A. Gallaway
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8- This engaging, thought-provoking book provides a chronological account of Rasputin's life as well as the historical background necessary to understand it in context. Was Rasputin a holy man, or was he simply a philandering charlatan who rose to power because of his unique relationship with Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra? The Romanovs were convinced that only he had the power to keep Alexis, their only son, who suffered from hemophilia, alive. In "Wicked?," a section at the end of the book, readers are asked questions to help them interpret history for themselves. Captioned, black-and-white period photographs enhance the text. Recommended for both curricular pursuits and pleasure reading.-Ragan O'Malley, Saint Ann's School, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.