General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Nov 2019/6 Lizard
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Article suitable for Top Juniors and above

DK find out! Maya, Incas and Aztecs

RESOURCE REVIEW: DKfindout! Maya, Incas, and Aztecs

Here we review one of the latest kids’ books on the Maya, from the Dorling Kindersley stable - publishers who many years ago pioneered visually appealing fun fact books for kids, peppered with punchy, pleasing pictures. This one, ‘DKfindout! Maya, Incas and Aztecs’ written by Brian Williams (2018) is no different. It’s great, but we do have a few quibbles with it... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: ‘These three civilisations stretched from southern North America to South America’
Pic 1: ‘These three civilisations stretched from southern North America to South America’ (Click on image to enlarge)

We’ve always been a bit doubtful of lumping together major civilisations in children’s books - inevitably it can lead to confusions and oversimplifications, visible here first in the maps. On p. 52 we have a ‘World map showing the empires’ (yet there WAS no Maya empire!) and at the very start (pp.4-5) the Aztecs are depicted as occupying the entire vast area of today’s Mexico (pic 1) (in reality it was less than half of this). Then the text gets mixed up referring to the three cultures: Maya children never ‘sang and danced to panpipe music’ (p. 21) - it was the Incas who played panpipes. The Aztecs didn’t ‘pick cacao beans’ (p. 16) to make chocolate, they had to get the beans from Maya territory; and the image of the Maya being able to feed ‘10 million people’ by bringing water from rivers and lakes via irrigation canals (pp. 16-17 & p. 60) is a stretch to say the least (for starters, there were virtually no rivers or lakes in the Maya lowlands).

Pic 2: ‘Cihuacoatl was the Aztec goddess of childbirth’. But this is earth goddess Coatlicue, not Cihuacoatl!
Pic 2: ‘Cihuacoatl was the Aztec goddess of childbirth’. But this is earth goddess Coatlicue, not Cihuacoatl! (Click on image to enlarge)

A few more nigglettes:-
• (Timeline): ‘Cortés and his small army of Spanish soldiers conquered the Aztecs in two years’. This plays terribly to the traditional (false) narrative of the romantic Conquistadors overcoming an entire nation on their own. It really is time to move on from this.
• (p. 19): the Aztecs weren’t the first people to turn cocoa beans into chocolate - the Maya were; and the chocolate ‘preparation’ outline omits key references to the pod itself, to fermentation, to roasting... And the drink was largely consumed cold not hot (p. 57)
• (p. 32): War. ‘Battles began with armies far apart, shooting arrows and javelins from complex machines’. We’ve never heard of anything that could be described as a ‘complex machine’ in pre-Hispanic warfare...
• (p. 45): Ballgame. The courts weren’t ‘Capital L-shaped’, they were capital ‘I’ (some say ‘H’-) shaped! And we’re not very happy with the summary paragraph...
• (p. 53): the notion that the locals believed the Spanish were gods has now been shown to be ‘fake news’, up there with end-of-the-world-in-2012’ stuff...
• (p. 161): Pronunciation. There are half a dozen mistakes, all with Aztec (Nahuatl) words/names: atlatl, Cihuacoatl, Huitzilopochtli, Quetzalcoatl, Quetzaltenango, Tenochtitlan (If you want details, please contact us...)

Pic 3: the Maya speak for themselves... DKfindout! Maya, Incas and Aztecs
Pic 3: the Maya speak for themselves... DKfindout! Maya, Incas and Aztecs (Click on image to enlarge)

It would be pedantic to nit-pick: overall we like this book and its style and breadth will obviously appeal to young readers, who won’t go badly wrong with the information in it. We just wish that a little more care would be taken when compiling these books to ensure the content is ‘as near as dammit’ from the time of publication...

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on May 31st 2019

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