Columbus Day is a complicated holiday—after all, we really shouldn’t be honoring a man who introduced the slave trade to the Americas for “discovering” the New World. His legacy includes the decimation of native Caribbean and American populations, a greedy search for gold that involved horrendous atrocities, and all sorts of other terrible things. Love him or hate him, though, Columbus’s first journey marked a huge turning point in history, and it’s one that young readers should know the true history of (at a developmentally appropriate level).
If you’re looking for a book for teens or mature middle readers that explores the complexity of the year 1492 in a fantastic setting, you should be reading Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski. The book is about a boy’s journey with his half genie friend to find his father, but he boards Columbus’s ship as part of that quest. And it includes a thorough author’s note detailing what we know and don’t know about that era, and what the author made up—a handy reference for use in schools. The only content warning I’d note for young readers is that the book doesn’t flinch away from the truth of what happened on Ayiti to the Taino—though it doesn’t show it in detail, there is reference to rape and other atrocities.
On the back cover of the book, we printed a short quote from award-winning and prolific Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac, but that isn’t all he had to say about it. Here’s his full review (my emphasis added):
This is a truly enjoyable energetic tale, a hero’s journey that is filled with as much magic—and wry humor—as I’ve ever seen crammed into one story. The narrator is intelligent, engaging, and grows throughout his New World voyage of personal discovery in as way that should make him truly sympathetic to any young adult reader.
A more or less historical fantasy, it’s an altogether original take on one of the most important events in human history—the first voyage of Columbus. In fact, with its emphasis on a totally different point of view—that of a converted Jewish Christian in late 15th century Spain who finds out his father is actually an infamous Moorish warrior and magician—it turns history and storytelling upside down.
Interesting, though this is an action-packed fantasy filled with everything from genies and giant monsters to magical caves, it is grounded in real history.
In fact, anyone who reads this may end up learning more about this period than is taught in most classrooms—including about the complex Taino cultures of Ayiti.—Joseph Bruchac, author of Killer of Enemies and Code Talker
Read it today in e-book or hardcover! (Links to online booksellers on the book page I just linked, or you can ask your local bookseller to order it.)
Or sign up for our e-news, because there will be an announcement later this week about an upcoming sale on the hardcover…