The Jr. Graphics Ancient Civilizations series offers a day in the life of a family in each of six cultures. Sensibly, it doesn’t try to cover the entirety of a civilization’s history, or show what life was like for people in all areas, classes, or trades. After all, each sturdy little hardcover is only 24 pages long. Instead, we get a page at the beginning of each volume that provides a general overview of the civilization’s history (names and dates of dynasties in China, for example), and then homes in on the time period we’ll be seeing.
Everyday Life in Ancient India follows a family of garland-makers living in Kasi in 250 BC. We see the family working at its craft, then the men going into town to sell garlands and make offerings at a shrine. Selling their flower garlands — which were important in ceremonies and other aspects of ancient Indian life — brings the men into contact with people of different castes and gives the reader a glimpse of a traditional wedding. Meanwhile, the women work at home. (You’ll see this emerge as a historically-accurate-but-depressing pattern.)
Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt follows an architect and his family who live in a village near Sakkara circa 2200 BC, during the construction of Pepi II’s pyramid. Again, we see the men involved in work, education, and religion, while the women do household chores. The architect and his son walk through of the half-built pyramid, giving us information about its construction and ancient Egyptian beliefs.
Over in Ancient Greece, we follow an Athenian family, including their slaves. Events covered include a meeting of the Boule council and a vote taken at the Assembly, with explanations of how each worked. In the evening, a dinner party is held.
Ancient Rome, meanwhile, brings us a family living in about 202 AD. The father/husband works in the Emperor’s Praetorian Guard and attends a gladiatorial match, and the children learn and daydream about the future.
In Ancient China (roughly 180 BC, in the Han dynasty), we follow a family of rice farmers. While their activities on this particular day are limited to farmwork, one of the children offers readers a broader scope by fantasizing about being a lord and what life would be like if he were one.
Finally, in the Mayan Civilization (circa 250 AD, Copán), we see a family go about work, school, and the celebration of a festival.
This series is all about education. The publisher’s website recommends the books for a reading level of 2nd or 3rd grade, with an interest level of 3rd to 6th grade. Each book features a glossary of words that young children might find difficult, which are indicated by bold text when they appear elsewhere in the book. There’s also a list of facts to take away from the volume.
The books are attractive and easily readable. Glossy, full-color pages include enough detail to immerse readers in the scenes of everyday life. Architecture, food, dress, sleeping arrangements, and more are pictured. I especially appreciate the choices made about which families to portray. The heads of most of the families (invariably the husbands and fathers, but whatever, Kirsten Holm didn’t create the patriarchy) work in middle-class or upper-middle-class professions. Holm resists focusing on lords or royalty, which I find refreshing. Plus, who knew some of that stuff about garland-makers?
The series has no sexual content, and violence is kept at a distance. Even the gladiatorial combat in Ancient Rome and the brutal sport of pok-ta-pok played by the Mayans involve no visible bloodshed.
In addition to text spoken by the characters, text boxes hang on the edges of most panels, explaining background facts. Still, the characters are remarkably prone to narrating their own lives and telling each other things they would all already know: “The women weave, while we work outside in the heat,” “You know I always get up before dawn since there is so much work to do.” This doesn’t exactly make for snappy dialog, but shouldn’t bother young readers who are looking to learn rather than to read a thrillingly-plotted story.
Jr. Graphics Ancient Civilizations series
by Kirsten Holm
Art by Planman Technologies
Everyday Life in Ancient India – ISBN: 9781448862191
Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt – ISBN: 9781448862160
Everyday Life in Ancient China – ISBN: 9781448862184
Everyday Life in Ancient Greece – ISBN: 9781448862146
Everyday Life in Ancient Rome – ISBN: 9781448862153
Everyday Life in Maya Civilization – ISBN: 9781448862177
Rosen Publishing Group, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 2nd-3rd grade reading level