- The Romans: Gods, Emperors, and Dormice by Marcia Williams
Edward Gibbon it’s not, but Williams’ slim, richly illustrated account of Roman history will probably do the trick for middle-grade students with an enthusiasm for ancient (or at least very, very early) history. She begins her story all the way back with creation myth, the tale of Prometheus, the Roman pantheon, and the legend of Romulus and Remus. Transitions from mythology to hazy history are clearly noted, but readers may not feel historical ground firmly under their feet until dates begin to appear with the six kings who follow Romulus. The Republic gets a few pages of attention, and then it’s briskly on to Empire, with a host of focus topics from ranks of citizenry, lifestyles of the patrician and plebeian, festivals, gladiators, and the army, until Diocletian divides the empire on the penultimate page, and the entire shebang collapses on the last. Shrinking this run of centuries into a picturebook format is much of the charm—a bit like two-minute Shakespeare—and the addition of a dormouse tour guide, who has thus far avoided becoming another morsel in the Roman diet, is either a clever commentator or an outright annoyance, depending on the reader’s tolerance for whimsy. Children familiar with Williams’ customary format will feel right at home with the juxtaposition of light-hearted cartoon figures playing out their scenes against straightforward narration, and as always, it’s worth lingering over the illustrations to tease out both the nonsense and the historical detail scattered throughout. No source notes are included, but anyone who can find their way to the 937s can confirm and expand the information.