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Add Turn of the Century to Your Library Collection -- This Year!

Share What would it be like to go back in time to the year 1000? Or 1400? Or 1900? Kids will learn some history, and lots of interesting facts about how kids lived in each of the centuries of this millenium, in a new book -- Turn of the Century -- from Charlesbridge Publishing. Turn back time as you turn the pages of this fabulous new book, which should be on every school's library shelves!

Turn of the Century Book Cover

Author Ellen Jackson turns back the pages of history again, with a fabulous new book that kids will eat up -- much as kids in the 14th century ate their herring pie!

Jackson has painstakingly researched the centuries to create little composite vignettes that relate how a boy or girl might have lived at the turn of each century during this millenium. From John, son of Stephen, a ten-year-old peasant boy who lived in the year 1000 (who owns nothing but the clothes on his back, clothes that used to belong to his grandfather!), to John Stevenson, a ten-year-old California boy who is about to celebrate the arrival of January 1, 2000 -- Jackson has created ten highly interesting character sketches that will captivate, and sometimes amaze, young readers!

Older elementary and middle school youngsters will enjoy traveling back in time as they read Turn of the Century. Younger students will enjoy having the book read to them.

Illustrator Jan Davey Ellis has created active and interesting watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations that complement perfectly Jackson's vignettes. Students will love hunting the illustrations for the details of children's lives described in the text. Take, for example, the illustrations that accompany the story of Annabelle Hugh, an eight-year-old daughter of an earl in London at the turn of the seventeenth century As Annabelle plays upon her lute, her father sports on his head a paste of garlic, honey, and wormwood created by his barber to remedy baldness. While the paste works its magic, the barber pulls a tooth from Annabelle's brother's mouth -- a common practice at a time when barbers often doubled as dentists. Facts like those learned in text and illustration are just the kind of information that might motivate students to learn more!


Each spread in Turn of the Century highlights life in a milestone year. Jackson introduces students to Eleanor, a nine-year-old lady (in the year 1100), who already knows who her future husband will be; Alice, a ten-year-old chambermaid (1400), eats with her fingers, because that's the way most people ate then; and Roger Dabbs, a seven-year-old Massachusetts boy (1700), spends much of his time in school perfecting his penmanship skills because good penmanship is of utmost importance in a time when most business records, letters, and reports are handwritten.

Accompanying each spread is a fact box, which provides students with additional information and insight into life in another time. For example, the facts that accompany the story of John, the ten-year-old peasant boy, include:

  • Books are rare and valuable. Many people have never seen one.
  • People use sundials to tell time, but many do not know the date or year.
  • Most children work alongside their parents from dawn to dusk, farming a small plot of land.
  • Many people live their entire lives without handling money.
  • Paper is unknown in England, which his called Angle-land.
  • The New Year begins on March 25, not January 1.

Jackson doesn't miss an occasional opportunity to gross kids out either -- because most kids love that stuff! For instance, a cat has just caught a rat on board the boat where Samuel Brewster is a ship's boy in 1500. Young Samuel gives the front part of the rat to the cat to eat. He roasts the rat's backside over a small flame to supplement his own meager diet! It's an image (an image Ellis has captured) that will leave a vivid impression -- in a book full of vivid impressions!

All of Jackson's children in Turn of the Century live either in England or America. The ten brief stories set the stage for readers to compare their own lives with those of children of 100, 200, 300, etc., years ago. Children will enjoy reading about the striking differences between themselves and children of years ago -- and searching for the similarities they share!

Creative teachers will find many ways to extend Turn of the Century into all areas of the curriculum.

  • Students might be divided into groups, each group assigned to learn more about one of the centuries.
  • Students might create Venn diagrams, showing similarities and differences between themselves and the children of long ago, to share with their classmates.
  • Students in each group might create a "dictionary" of terms unique to their century.
  • Students could create timelines of important events during the century they choose to study.
  • Each student might explore the life of one important person in the century he/she is studying and write a biography of that person.

Together, activities such as those and the information gleaned from Turn of the Century will help bring history to life in the classroom. What a great learning experience as your students' interest and excitement builds toward the eve of a new millenium!

Turn of the Century is published by Charlesbridge Publishing (1998). The book is available in many bookstores. If you can't find a copy, ask your local bookseller to order one for you or contact the publisher at
85 Main Street,
Watertown, MA

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World

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