Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

History and its Ripples

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Who in their right mind would suggest to a publisher that they wanted to write a book called A History of Just About Everything?? Not me or Frieda Wishinsky, my co-author for a book by that very title that was published this fall.

When we proposed to Kids Can Press that we write a book about the most important happenings of the 20th century, our editor came back to us with the idea that we should expand our proposal. And we agreed — although there were times in the process when writing all the “180 Events, People and Inventions That Changed the World” (that’s the book’s subtitle) seemed rather overwhelming.

There are a number of books out there that claim to tell kids everything they need to know about history. What makes ours different is that we also look at how each item has changed history and still affects us today — we called this information “Ripples.” So for instance, instead of just telling kids that fire was discovered around 400,000 BCE, I also described how fire’s warmth allowed humans to move to colder climates, and its light let us stay up later, which gave us time to make tools. When people began to sleep around a fire in groups, they had to build relationships and develop tolerance for each other.

But that’s not all. Thousands and thousands of years ago, it’s likely someone accidentally dropped some meat in the fire. When he fished it out of the fire and ate it — yum! Over time, our digest tracts shrank because cooked food is easier for our stomachs to process than raw food. Our teeth shrank too because the cooked food was softer. Our brains — and our bodies overall — became bigger and we began living longer too.

Oh, and just a few more things. People used the smoke from fires to send messages and artist drew with the charred sticks remaining after a fire. Farmers learned to control fire to burn grasses in fields so they could plant crops. Fire helped workers melt metals and create tools, jewellery — and, of course, weapons. Put a pot of water over a fire and you get more than just tea. You also get steam, which led to the power of the steam engine.

And that’s just one entry in the book! It was a lot of work for Frieda and me, but so fascinating. Many thanks to our editor Val Wyatt, copy editor (and fact checker — whew!) Kathy Vanderlinden, illustrator Qin Leng and designer Julia Naimska. This was definitely a team effort!

And Another Thing …

Speaking of tea, it was on this date in 1773 that the good folks of Boston put on the kettle and invited a few people over for a tea party. Well, not exactly, but the Boston Tea Party did take place 240 years ago today.

I guess Canadians have to take some responsibility for the birth of the American nation. After British soldiers won such battles against the French as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (in what’s now Quebec), France left North America for good.

But Britain was left with a huge debt, so they began taxing their territories in North America. The Americans objected to the taxes, which led to the protest that became known as the Boston Tea Party, and that escalated into the American Revolutionary War. And we all know how that ended!

Thanks for reading.

1 comment

I will not light another candle this season without thinking of this blog about one small portion of your book. It is amazing how experience ripples out and creates an effect and then ripples out and creates another. And so on. Think of the ongoing ripple effect of the events from 240 years ago, and the political movement that has taken it's name from that event. Ripples are not necessarily benign, to be sure. Thanks for another thoughtful blog.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Elizabeth MacLeod

Award-winning author Elizabeth MacLeod has written over 50 books for children. Her most recent book, Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries, was published by Annick Press.

Go to Elizabeth MacLeod’s Author Page