My son read Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive but I think he was too old at age 12 to enjoy it. I think this book series sweet spot is reluctant boy readers (like my son) at grades 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.
My son is typical of the reluctant elementary school boy reader. He reads about a year above grade level, so reading ability is the not the issue. It’s all about competing with other preferences, namely Rick Riordan books (funny! adventure! mythology! peer acceptance!), video gaming, graphic novels, notebook novels (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid), and funny books (which includes Rick Riordan, graphic novels, and notebook novels).
To get my son reading, I turned to nonfiction. Guinness Book of World Records is always a little boy crowd pleaser, as is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. My son also really liked 100 Disgusting Things On the Planet series, and National Geographic Kids Weird But True! series. My son and I read piles of National Geographic Kids books together including the Almanacs.
I find Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries slightly off the mark. I expected the history stories to have a mystery element. Given the artwork, I expected something on Ancient Egypt and The Great Wall of China. Instead, the stories related to Asia feel insignificant, more trivia than history (incomplete bird building, and woman who sewed doll people), while the actual histories are all Euro-centric.
The African story centers more on the Anglo, Cotton Mather, who is credited historically for developing vaccinations. I would have liked to have included how smallpox was used as a biological weapon against Native Americans who were gifted blankets knowingly infected with the disease, and devastated their populations. At what point in time was the smallpox vaccination technology introduced to American Indians? I think the omission of the role that smallpox played in the genocide of Native Americans is part of a white-washing of U. S. history to deny culpability.
The other Africa story about hyenas furthers the misconception that Africans are primitive which European rationalization of conquering and empire building is based on. I would have preferred a story on Is The First Man on Earth African? That’s both history and a mystery.
For example, Ancient China inventions include: paper making (105 AC), moveable type printing (960-1279 AD), gunpowder (1000 AD), compass (1100 AD), alcohol (2000 BC), mechanical clock (725 AD), tea production (2737 BC), silk (6000 years ago), umbrella (1700 years ago), acupuncture (2300 years ago), iron smelting (1050 BC), porcelain (581 AD), earthquake detector (132 AD), rocket (228 AD), bronze (1700 BC), kite (3000 years ago), seed drill (3500 years ago), row crop farming (6th century BC), toothbrush (1498), and paper money (9th century AD). From US/China Institute In addition, the fairy tale Cinderella originated from China as did pasta.
There is a lot of history and mystery to draw upon from China alone, but with the exception of a photograph of The Great Wall, there are no actual histories or mysteries from China.
The Hello, Dolly! story that was included in the Supernatural section is neither Supernatural, historical (it’s from 2016), nor a mystery. It’s actually more a piece on public art similar to Tyree Guyton, Ned Chand‘s Secret Kingdom, or Mary Nohl‘s house and garden.
The gaming aspect of Two Truths and a Lie is spot-on, but the length of each story is too long. I would have preferred more stories that were shorter. Instead of 5 to 6 pages, I would have preferred a two-page spread per story which would have also made the LIE story less obvious. The party game itself, Two Truths and a Lie, is really based on three short statements, rather than three long stories. Because the stories in each chapter don’t have a natural connection via story theme, it’s hard to remember which three stories are in a chapter. It would work better to have each chapter begin with an A, B, C 2-sentence synopsis of each story to pique the reader’s interest and let them pre-guess before they dive in.
For example, instead of stories grouped by 1000, 100 and 10 years ago, I would have preferred the groupings to be around Ancient Egypt (was Senenmut the father of Hatshepsut’s daughter?), or women who ruled the ancient world, or on Genghis Khan (1 in 200 people today are related to Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire (the most successful conqueror of the world), how did Japan defeat Genghis Kahn’s Armada?), or on the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.
I like the other details around each story but I found the 10 Facts impossible to figure out. In fact, it was so difficult that I ended up not caring about this section. There isn’t enough detail to know which is true or false, and there are too many choices. I would have preferred for this section to be limited to 3 choices, but with more questions.
Overall, I found that the Mysteries and Histories sections didn’t really hang together. The sections felt a little forced to be categorized as a group, although I enjoyed the stories individually. I also would have preferred more actual history versus trivia. Kids at this age have very little exposure to World History and Ancient Civilizations, particularly outside of European history that it seems a shame to focus the stories on insignificant trivia.
I’d try this series with kids who love reading and nonfiction. Perhaps they are gamers. They are not reluctant readers like my son who likes his nonfiction to the point and in small chunks. They are not reluctant readers, but maybe graduating out of this category.
As a marketer, I would have test marketed this concept with groups of children in the sweet spot of the demographic that this book addresses. I would have tried 8-year-old boys who read at grade level but are not voracious readers versus 8-year-old girls who read at grade level but will read on their own at home.
I would also try 9-year-olds and 10-year-olds and fine tune the format based on what the kids say. But that’s me. I like A/B testing. I like usability testing as well and I view it as usability testing of a nonfiction concept … i.e. can we go longer with the stories? How long is too long? What is the sweet spot in term of age for this series? Is there a preference for this book based on sex (male/female)?
I’d love to know what your experience is with Two Truths and Lie, the first book. I found the science stories in this book to work better for this format. What did you think? Thanks for sharing!
There is a teachers’ guide available for both books: 2 Truths and a Lie Teachers’ Guide
Two Truths and a Lie 2 Book Giveaway!
I am giving away both books in the Two Truths and a Lie series so please enter using the Rafflecopter below.
Ammi-Joan Paquette loves caves, hates mushy bananas, and is ambivalent about capybaras. She is the author of the novels The Train of Lost Things, Paradox, and Nowhere Girl as well as the Princess Juniper series and many more. She is also the recipient of a PEN/New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award honor. Joan lives outside Boston, Massachusetts, where she balances her own writing with her day job as a literary agent. You can visit her online at www.ajpaquette.com.
Laurie Ann Thompson loves capybaras, hates caves, and is ambivalent about mushy bananas. She is the author of several award-winning nonfiction books, including Emmanuel’s Dream, a picture book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, which was the recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award and was named an ALA Notable Book and a CCBC Choice, among other accolades. She lives outside Seattle with her family, and you can visit her online at www.lauriethompson.com
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p.p.s. Based on feedback from authors at KidLitCon 2018 last year, I am trying to give deeper and more honest feedback in my book reviews.
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