Nonfiction Monday: Famous Figures of Ancient Times

famous_figuresFamous Figures of Ancient Times
written by: Cathy Diez-Luckie
illustrated by: Cathy Diez-Luckie
published by: Figures in Motion, 2009
Audience (reading level): 6 to 12 (7.1 Flesch Kincaid)

I am excited about this book! It arrived in the mail on Friday, and I have been thumbing through it ever since, wishing I could be the one playing with “Aristotle, the action figure.”

Essentially, this is a book of paper dolls. Among the group of 19 men and an elephant (Hannibal’s elephant), you’ll find emperors, conquerors, and philosophers. These are the great men of Ancient Egypt, Greece, China, Rome, and Jerusalem. There is a two-paragraph biography on each person at the front of the book, followed by two pages of the character the reader needs to build.

Once the figure is assembled, kids can “play out the real stories of history or make up their own and travel through time.” There is a set of pre-colored pieces for those who aren’t artistic; and a set of coloring book-styled pieces for those who want to create originals. Cut the pieces out and connect them with mini-brads, fasteners, or 1/8-inch eyelets. The pages are cardstock quality paper, allowing for more hands-on activity.

Diez-Luckie has done a fabulous job with the front material, clearly explaining what the book has to offer each audience (children, adults, muesums, and historical re-enactors). She includes detailed instructions on how to prepare and assemble the historic figures. I also liked not only how she covered the globe (ancient as it was), but also how she balanced disciplines (philosophers and conquerors) and fame (Alexander the Great and a Greek Hoplite).

The idea of creating puppets with the characters appeals to me. First, it builds history with context, not date memorization. There is no doubt that boys will enjoy working with these figures. [If nothing else gets their attention, many of them are carrying swords!] Also, I am intrigued by the idea that learning can go beyond reciting what we know to using “time travel” to let the kids create their own dialogue.

Some of the biographies have dates, others do not. It would be nice to have a time line to see how these men fit together in time. They were not all contemporaries, but which ones could have known about each other? That would be helpful for pairing the ancients for role playing.

Along that same line, I am disappointed that the book doesn’t offer more context for the characters. On the back of the book one of the reviewers describes Famous Figures of Ancient Times as a “supplemental activity book for history.” That is great for structured classroom-style learning, but as the parent of a 7-year-old who hasn’t studied ancient history yet, I would like more than just that 2-paragraph summary. Lesson plans, additional facts, and links to related content are available by joining the Figures In Motion Club (free), but that takes you away from the book. That isn’t appealing to those of us who are trying to cut down on Email volume.

This is the first title in Figures in Motion’s Famous Figures series. The last page of this book lists other titles yet to come: Famous Figures of Medieval Times, Famous Figures of the Renaissance, Famous Figures of the United States, and Famous Figures of the Bible. There are also going to be activity books for Dinosaurs on the Move and Animals Running Wild.  While I understand why the Famous Figures of Ancient Times is filled with men only, I am hoping that future volumes also show the contributions of great women, as well.

This isn’t a book that you’re likely going to find in your local library. The pages are perforated and the temptation to take it apart will be too much for many patrons. Still, it is a book to keep in mind if you want to add a new dimension to the way your child learns history.

Famous Figures of Ancient Times (and its follow-on titles) have the potential to be a wonderful tool. History is not usually a discipline you think of for hands-on learning, and this could be an incredible resource for all kids, but particularly kinesthetic learners.

All in all, this is a neat book that offers a way to reinforce learning in a meaningful, creative way. I would definitely recommend it, even for home use. It is a great way for you to play with your kids and learn together.

6 responses to “Nonfiction Monday: Famous Figures of Ancient Times

  1. 19 men and an elephant – I don’t suppose it was a girl elephant, was it? I’m not blaming the writer, because it’s hard to find great female historical figures, but they’re there!

    This type of activity book really appeals to me as a way in for kids who are ready for a taste of history, or who don’t want too much text. I loved paper dolls when I was sick enough to stay in bed, and had nothing new to read. As you say, some kids are hands-on, and will take to a book like this because of it. But it’s the opportunity for creativity that appeals to me most. I LOVE puppets and they are great to get kids talking and imagining.

    1. My guess – from what I do remember about Hannibal – is that it wasn’t a girl elephant. You are so right – there are lots of great female historical figures. Other than Cleopatra VII, I had a hard time thinking of an influential female for this period. Although marrying one’s brother to take over sole rule is something kids would remember, her soap-opera-ish life doesn’t match well with the other accomplished Ancients. In other eras – certainly Medieval times and American history – there are women of significant accomplishment and great influence. The opportunities to bring history to life for kids is just so great.

Comments are closed.