Friday, October 2, 2015

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales (Abrams Books)

History was always one of my least favorite subjects in school. It never felt like I was taught anything interesting. It was just a large collection of important people, places, and dates. Anytime, there was something that remotely piqued my interest, it was glossed over or ignored. I believe a lot of people my age felt this way, and that if you asked someone what they most remembered from history they could tell you one of two things - "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue," or some variation of "If you don't learn history, you're doomed to repeat it." Since I have become a parent, I have thought a lot about the future education of my children. and making sure they get a better education than I did. That's not to say that mine was bad, but I can look back on it now and see how it could have been better. One way I would do that is to make history fun, and I have found the best way to do that is with a Living History curriculum and texts that capture the reader's attention. A book series I have found that accomplished that is called Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales is a five (soon to be six) volume set. The books in the set are as follows:

One Dead Spy - A Revolutionary War Tale
Big Bad Ironclad! - A Civil War Tale
Donner Dinner Party - A Pioneer Tale
Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood - A World War I Tale
The Underground Abductor - An Abolitionist Tale
Alamo All-Stars - A Texas Tale

For those unfamiliar with who Nathan Hale was, he was a soldier for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Nathan Hale is also the name of the author of this series of books. In Book 1 - One Dead Spy, Nathan Hale, the historical figure, is scheduled to be executed for being a spy. A British soldier is looking for the execution papers, and a hangman (the comic relief) is trying to help Hale come up with famous last words to say. Hale finally says, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." His memorable words caused a "Big Huge Book of American History" to appear and absorb Hale into it. Then, Hale instantly reappeared with all knowledge of American history including future history. This turns into the whole premise/running gag of the series. At the beginning of every book, the Brit and the hangman are planning to hang Hale, but he regales them with a tale of American history or what would in reality be the future to them.

The books themselves are told in graphic novel/comic book format. That means it visually draws you and feels more like reading a story than listening to a history lesson. The historical figures interact with one another, and it is not reading something in the third person. Throughout the Hazardous Tales, there are lots of interruptions by the three members mentioned above, which provides the reader with context and depth when needed. It also serves to lighten the mood at times, so the reader forgets that they are not only reading for fun, but learning something too! Of the current five books, the one I enjoyed the best was Donner Dinner Party, because who doesn't love a tale about cannibalism? :)

Now, I would like to address what I like and dislike about the series. I will start with what I dislike, because there isn't much I dislike. At times, there is some disrespectful language. It's not vulgar, but I guess sassy would be the right word. The children in Donner Dinner Party are at times disrespectful towards their parents and wish their older sister would shut up about her pony. Your kids are going to be exposed to that kind of sass, but you can let them know that is a trait that will not be tolerated in your house, so that's my biggest gripe.

What I liked about this book is the level of detail, which I will explain as best I can. For starters, the inside covers of the book have a map of the United States and what it looked like for the year the book takes place. One Dead Spy's map is 1775; Donner Dinner Party's map is 1846; and so on. The front of each book has differing flags, depending on the era for the book. One Dead Spy has an American flag with 13 stars on one side and a British flag on the other side. Big Bad Ironclad! has an American flag on one side and a Confederate flag on the other side. On the back of the book is a "Hazard Level," which is basically a warning of what your children will encounter. For example, Big Bad Ironclad! has a Hazard Level Red for Explosive. This level includes "blockade-runners, privateers, burning shipyards, underwater toilets, Swedish swearing, ironclad battleships, and a bomb on a stick." I also love that at the end of the book there is actual factual history, questions about why some parts were included and other parts excluded, and a bibliography for the book. Even all these facets are done in an engaging way to not break character and keep history light and fun, but also accurate.

I honestly was not sure what to expect from these books when I received them. I thought they would either be dry stories that the author attempted to make interesting or so far off the wall that there would be no literary value to them. However, I was pleasantly surprised by them, and they more than exceeded my expectations. Hale (the author, not the historical figure) carefully picked his subjects for each book to ensure he started with a compelling historical account. He then even more carefully researched the history to make the story as close to factual as the records were able to verify. What he ended up producing is a series that I hope has no end in sight. So who are these books for? I would say a child in 3rd grade, perhaps 2nd if an advanced reader would be a good starting age for these books. I hate to put an age cap on them because tastes vary and some middle schoolers might feel they are too grown up for them, but conversely, some high schoolers might love them. Each child is different. I do think that these are more boy books than girl books, because of the comic format and tendency for the comics to skew a bit gruesome at times. But don't rule them out if you only have girls, check one out at a library and if they love them, buy them! These belong in the classroom and on the home bookshelf, as your child will want to read them multiple times. Highly recommended!

These books were provided to me for free by Abrams Books in exchange for honest reviews!