Pros: A story about Greek life and culture and a librarian with big dreams!
It is amazing how the union of art and words can produce a book so full of wonders. How to count them? How to describe them? Perhaps the bibliography is the place to begin. The writer Kathryn Lasky consulted nine sources for the information incorporated into the story of Eratosthenes; Kevin Hawkes, the illustrator, used sixteen.
Each double-page spread of illustration displays the artist's extensive knowledge of all things Greek and Cyrenian (Greek city on the coast of Africa in what is now Libya, where Eratosthenes grew up). Textile patterns, Greek urn art, linens, palm trees, brick work, plant life, housing, clothing styles, educational settings, musical instruments, mathematical counting methods, colors, architecture, landscaping-- these are just a few items from the first few pages. The artwork is truly magnificent, yet part of the story as information. His intense and deep bright colors match the intensity of North Africa.
Lasky also pours information into the story, revealing pretty much what it was like in Eratosthenes' day. As for Eratosthenes, Lasky notes in the introduction that not much is known about his life, but much is known of the Greek world, its people, and its culture. All Lasky had to do was place an intensely curious child into the Greek setting to lay the background for the development of this genius.
As a librarian, I was most impressed with the library in Alexandria and how it was run. Being named head librarian was a real turning point for Eratosthenes, as the library put at his disposal all the information he needed for solving a long-time problem that occupied his mind: How big around is the Earth? Finally, using methods over my head, Eratosthenes determined the earth's circumference at 24,662 miles, just two hundred miles off the correct figure. Solving this problem also meant concluding his book, Geographica, the first geography book of the world.
(Speaking of geography and measurements, if Eratosthenes were around today, he would hustle on off to the Geography Write-Off where his writing talents could also be measured. But he's not, so I plan to take his place.)
Measuring the earth is but one aspect of Erathosthenes' life. As a student in Athens, he was nicknamed Pentathlos because he was good in so many areas of knowledge. Eventually, he became tutor to Ptolemy III's son.
This is one of those very special books for children that presents not only a story of an admirable person, but also the absolute beauty found only in the art tools of the most talented illustrator. Lasky and Hawkes have created a must-have book for libraries, both school and home!