Children's Literature Reviews for Teaching History

Know a great book for teaching social studies that's not yet included here? Click the appropriate link on the left to add it.
Have you used one of these books with students? Leave a comment after the rating about your own experience.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Golden Mean

Title: The Golden Mean   
Author: Annabel Lyon  
Category: Historical Fiction

Topic: Ancient Greece, Philosophy    
Grade Level: 11th and 12th grades and college    
Students: Mostly strong readers, just as few struggling or reluctant readers 
Rating by: Andrew J. Peters from New York
Andrew included thoughful, detailed comments with his review as you'll see below.  To find out more about Andrew, check out:

Historically Accurate?
(4) Yes and also includes historical notes, primary sources, etc.
(3) Yes
(2) A few inaccurate or misleading portrayals
(1) Not a bit

An Engaging Story?
(4) Almost all students will beg to keep reading
(3) Most students will get caught up in the story
(2) Some students will read ahead by mistake
(1) Students will groan when the book is mentioned

Prompts Discussion?
(4) Students will still be talking about it in the hallway
(3) Will prompt discussion about major issues in the past as well as today
(2) Will prompt discussion about the characters and the events in the book
(1) Will not prompt discussion

(4) Everyone - even the most reluctant readers – can get on board
(3) Can be used for a whole class read
(2) Can only be used with a small high-powered reading group
(1) Recommend only to students that love reading

Age Appropriate Content?
__X_Too mature 
__ __Just right 
____Too simplistic

Comments from Andrew J. Peters: 
Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean tells the story of Aristotle's relationship with young Alexander the Great.  The central story question is:  will Aristotle's teachings have a humanizing effect on the future conqueror of the world, vis-a-vis the philosopher's well-known concept of the Golden Mean.

Besides being elegantly written, the story is rich on atmosphere and setting, and therefore, I think, a helpful supplement to students learning about what it was like to live in pre-Hellenistic Greece--from daily life, the status of women and slaves, religious beliefs, morality, politics and of course the history.  Comparisons to modern issues, militarism and political power in particular, will make for interesting discussion.  Certainly for a philosophy course, The Golden Mean would be a terrific reading assignment as Artistotle's views are developed and contrasted within a vibrant narrative (much easier to read than "dialogues.")

Many social issues are portrayed quite compellingly, realistically--Artistotle's mental illness (bi-polar depression), the mental disability of Alexander's younger brother, gender roles/male identity, society's view of homosexuality, to name a few.

A caveat or two: there is sex, prostitution, graphic violence and graphic medical procedures, and women and slaves are treated quite badly.  As a social worker, working with adolescents, I think those heavy issues could be a distraction for lower grades, and the sophisticated language lends itself best to advanced placement/honors high school students or a college class.  It's not that any of depictions are gratuitous or sensationalized/eroticized, but a teacher will want to talk about them in the context of how cultures/eras viewed morality differently than we do today.

Also, the book is fairly short - 300 pages - but students who crave action-based stories may find the story a little sluggish. 

Amazon's Product Review:     
"A startlingly original first novel by “this generation’s answer to Alice Munro” (The Vancouver Sun)—a bold reimagining of one of history’s most intriguing relationships: between legendary philosopher Aristotle and his most famous pupil, the young Alexander the Great.

342 BC: Aristotle is reluctant to set aside his own ambitions in order to tutor Alexander, the rebellious son of his boyhood friend Philip of Macedon. But the philosopher soon comes to realize that teaching this charming, surprising, sometimes horrifying teenager—heir to the Macedonian throne, forced onto the battlefield before his time—is a necessity amid the ever more sinister intrigues of Philip’s court.

Told in the brilliantly rendered voice of Aristotle—keenly intelligent, often darkly funny—
The Golden Mean brings ancient Greece to vivid life via the story of this remarkable friendship between two towering figures, innovator and conqueror, whose views of the world still resonate today."

Link to Reviews on Amazon
Link to the blog of the author: Annabel Lyon
Buy this book from your local bookstore via Indie Bound

No comments:

Post a Comment