Shields, Carol Diggory. Brain Juice American History: Fresh Squeezed! Illustrated by Richard Thompson. New York, Handprint Books. 2002. ISBN 1929766629
Brain Juice American History is everything a person who doesn’t like history could want. It’s funny. It’s educational. It’s brief. That third point may be the most important for reluctant learners. Upon reading Shields’s introduction I realized, she was just like me. History was something to be dreaded. Not with Brain Juice.
While the running timeline across the top of the pages could be helpful, it is also full of quips and not quite truths (like the Emancipation Proclamation “freeing all slaves”). Despite this lapse in accuracy, the collection is a fun read, with Thompson’s illustrations often being sharply charactured or satirical.
While nearly all of the poems rhyme, some are set to specific tunes, such as “To the Tune of…” which it notes should be sung to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Some mock the modern era, such as “Y2K,” some point out forgotten facts, “The first Americans were dinosaurs,” and others such as the poems about the Civil War or 9/11 remind us that there is a price that goes with being free to have the levity.
This collection is ageless. I want this as my history book. For young children, it is an introduction. For the middle grades, a new perspective or poking fun. For high schoolers, who ‘everyone’ knows are way to cool (or busy) to care what happened yesterday much less in history, it is a reminder that history is both fun and significant.
World War II by Carol Diggory Shields
In our very own galaxy, not long ago,
An evil empire began to grow.
Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini,
Each worse than a movie meanie,
Three dictators with a single goal:
“We want the world under our control!”
But they were defeated, not by computers,
Spaceships, or intergalactic shooters,
Or robot weapons, or laser spears,
But by men and women
and their blood, sweat, and tears.
This poem is one that, though it starts out lighthearted, reminds the reader that there is, in fact, a price to be paid. Encourage the student to ask their family if anyone served in the Great War and which theater. It is a reminder that history is very much still effecting us today. Do their parents remember where they were on December 7th? For that matter, do the kids older siblings, or older cousins, or parents remember where they were on September 11th? Unlike many in this book that invite laughter, the poems like “World War II” or “Trail of Tears” invite reflection and remembrance.
Kirkus–“In deft, light verse, Shields (Food Fight, p. 963, etc.) revisits dozens of high and low spots in this country’s history, to which political cartoonist Thompson appends plenty of fine-lined, tongue-in-cheek caricatures and vignettes. The tone is generally, but not always, jocular;”
Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. 2002. (Vol. 70, No. 23.) Retrieved from CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=15&isbn=9781929766628