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The Emperor’s Army by Virginia Walton Pilegard

May 1, 2010

Today I’m posting my first publisher requested review. I was excited to have the opportunity to review a few books from New Orleans publisher, Pelican Publishing Company.  A regional publisher, Pelican specializes in “travel guides, art and architecture books, Christmas books, local and international cookbooks, motivational and inspirational works, and children’s books, as well as a growing number of social commentary, history, and fiction titles”. (Pelican website)

The Emperor’s Army: a mathematical adventure by Virginia Walton Pilegard. Illustrated by Adrian Tans. Pelican Publishing, January 2010.

Genres: Picturebook, Historical fiction

When scholarship falls out of favor because the evil prime minister gains influence with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, a scholar and his son escape persecution by hiding in the mountains. They discover a huge project that artists arrested by the emperor are completing: a clay army to serve as guardians in the emperor’s afterlife. After the emperor dies, the peasants rob the buried army of statues, with the aid of the scholar’s son, and stage a revolt. The scholar and his son are rewarded and allowed to live in comfort, continuing to study.

This book would make a nice addition to an elementary school library and could be used as a teaching supplement in multiple subject areas. The rich language will probably require dictionary use by independent readers but provides a great opportunity to expand vocabulary.

Things to like about this book: First, Adrian Tans’ beautiful illustrations place the reader in the moment. Combined with the third person narration, the illustrations make it easy to settle in as though you are at the feet of a feudal elder in a long ago Chinese kingdom. The author introduces math concepts of volume and estimation, which allow for cross curricular usage. There is a brief historical note (which could have been expanded) concerning the first Huang emperor and an art activity for making clay sculptures.

Audience: Lower to middle elementary school. Read aloud in social studies or history class studying ancient China. Supplement to math or art class.

Reviewed from: F&G provided by publisher

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