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Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas

Overview

Many generations of American schoolchildren were taught that Columbus discovered America, and a holiday reminds us every October. But historical investigation in recent years has shown us otherwise. There is evidence that adventurers, explorers, traders, and nomads from various parts of the globe set foot on American soil long before 1492. And expeditions that landed in the Americas reported people already living there—indicating that America had been “discovered” before.
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Overview

Many generations of American schoolchildren were taught that Columbus discovered America, and a holiday reminds us every October. But historical investigation in recent years has shown us otherwise. There is evidence that adventurers, explorers, traders, and nomads from various parts of the globe set foot on American soil long before 1492. And expeditions that landed in the Americas reported people already living there—indicating that America had been “discovered” before.
Russell Freedman brings his legendary skills as researcher and storyteller to this fresh and intriguing look at the American past. Colorful legends and first-person accounts are woven into the riveting narrative, which also illuminates the way historians and mapmakers have gathered, evaluated, and recorded information throughout the ages.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Clear and packed with interesting details ... [t]his engaging work presents history as a story still being written." Kirkus Reviews, Starred

Students will discover fascinating information as well as a fine example of the research process in this thought-provoking work.
School Library Journal, Starred

"A well-rtesearched, intelligent account of America's 'discovery.'" Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

:"This well-designed, clearly written book looks at various ideas about the discovery of the Americas, including the famous voyages of Columbus in 1492, the claims that fifteenth-century Chinese explorer Zheng He may have salied to the Americas, and the now-documented settlement of Vikings in Newfoundland around the year 1000." Book Links, ALA

"Freedman has done it again, providing a well-organized, lucid, and engaging explanation of an important subject for middle-grade and middle school readers." Horn Book, Starred

Freedman provides an intriguing, fresh, and compelling view of traditional American history, taking readers beyond the familiar story of Columbus as the 'discoverer of America' and presenting new theories and possiblitites about who might have come to the Americas first and why.
VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

A variety of illustrations from maps and models to dioramas and paintings embellish the text; a bibliography, index, and specific sources for quotations are also included.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Elizabeth Ward
Paintings, maps, engravings and photographs enrich a lucid, scrupulously documented text.
—The Washington Post
F. Todd Goodson
Freedman's brief history of exploration and immigration of the Americas provides an accessible overview of what is and is not known about the subject. Taking care to distinguish established facts from speculative theory, Who Was First begins with Columbus and subsequent Spanish explorers of Central and South America. The text then moves to a more speculative chapter devoted to the evidence of Chinese contact with the "New World." Following a chapter devoted to Leif Eriksson and Viking explorers and possible settlers, the text turns to a discussion of the likely immigration patterns of those who would become Native Americans. While most everything covered in the book is available in history textbooks, Who Was First does provide an interesting summary of issues surrounding the "discovery" of the Americas. The book is especially appropriate for middle school students, although it is a source that could possibly interest reluctant high school readers. The book refuses to take sides on the implications of this discussion, so it would be an ideal jumping-off point for class discussions and/or debates. Reviewer: F. Todd Goodson
Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
For decades American school children have learned that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The idea that Columbus was the discoverer of America reigned supreme as fact until recent scientific inquiry began to erode the certainty surrounding this assumption. In Who Came First? Newberry Award winner Russell Freedman takes on the topic of who actually were the first "discoverers" of the New World. In tackling this subject Freedman demonstrates the writing and research skills so typical of his earlier works. Freedman begins by presenting Columbus and the four voyages he made to the Americas. This initial chapter may well be the finest in the book as Columbus comes to life not only as an explorer but also as an individual. Later portions of Freedman's illustrated work touch upon voyages made by the Chinese, Vikings, and other seafaring people. Freedman than presents the Native American peoples who settled in the Americas well before the arrival of any European explorers. Finally, Freedman describes the efforts of amateur and professional archeologists who helped unravel elements of the cloak that disguised past explorations of the New World. The end result of Freedman's efforts is a book that will engage the interest of youngsters curious about the mysteries of mankind's past. While this is not one of Freedman's finest works, it does stand out as a capably constructed and well illustrated look back at a fascinating topic. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
School Library Journal

Gr 5-9 With characteristic polish, documentation, and readability, Freedman examines the evidence for determining who first discovered the Americas. Despite traditional historical emphasis on European discoveries, "tens of millions" of Native Americans were living here when these renowned explorers arrived. The author devotes separate chapters to Columbus's New World voyages, Chinese treasure-ship expeditions under Admiral Zheng He, and the "New World" wanderings of Leif Eriksson and the Vikings. But, with well-established Native American civilizations already in America, the bigger question is where they came from and when. Theories of Stone Age migration, DNA links to other cultures, and the location of carbon-dated artifacts provide clues but no definitive proof about the mysterious origins of the first Americans. This focused, investigative presentation will enhance collections that typically feature individual explorer biographies or descriptions of specific ancient Native American civilizations. Freedman conveys the allure of history and research through anecdotes, archaeological evidence, maps and illustrations, different points of view, and unanswered questions. His "Chapter Notes" and annotated "Selected Bibliography" are informative models of style and technique for young researchers. Students will discover fascinating information as well as a fine example of the research process in this thought-provoking work.-Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC

Kirkus Reviews
The Americas have been "discovered" over and over again since the prehistoric past. Not only was Columbus not the first explorer to discover America, he was one of the last, and this presentation of the Americas as lands of immigrants from Stone Age hunters to European explorers is a testament to Freedman's ability to make big subjects accessible to young readers. Drawing on research by scholars and "obsessed amateurs," he tells of Columbus, Zheng He and the giant Chinese treasure ships, Leif Eriksson and the Vikings and the Aztecs, Incas, Mayas and other civilizations of the Americas. The prose is clear and packed with interesting details, and the color photographs, full-page maps and reproductions of engravings, lithographs and drawings add to the lively presentation. The chapter notes and bibliography are solid, emphasizing how new and fresh some discoveries are. This engaging work presents history as a story still being written; maybe the reader will be the next to find an ancient stone tool that "will be a hand reaching out of the past and taking ours." (index) (Nonfiction. 9-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618663910
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/15/2007
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 111,076
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 1310L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. He is also the recipient of three Newbery Honors, the Sibert Medal, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Mr. Freedman lives in New York City.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2008

    A reviewer

    we had to listen to the audio book in class and we literally FELL ASLEEP. it was so boring. what ever you do do not read this book.

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