Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 by Charles C. Mann

As I mentioned this past summer, I am teaching an elective this year that focuses on the migration of the monarch butterfly and specifically on Meso-America and the Meso-American people.  I read Charles C. Mann’s adult nonfiction title, 1491, over the summer and loved it.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when I learned he had adapted the information for a kid’s nonfiction title!

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491. Charles C. Mann sets the record straight with a fascinating look at the lives of ancient Meso-American people. For too long, American students have learned that “In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”, with little regard for the advanced cultures already thriving in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and his fellow Europeans.  Mann focuses on three questions in the book and expands on the small amount of history most Americans know about the native people who populated this land.  He focuses on:

  • How old was the “New World?”
  • Why did the Europeans succeed?
  • Were the Americas really a wilderness?

In answering these questions, you are taken on fascinating and compelling  journey. Even though I have been studying the area (and visited central Mexico), I found myself learning new information.  The book includes stunning photographs, paintings, maps, and other non-fiction features that further supplement the text and bring the facts presented to life.  I’ve been sharing various passages with my enrichment class and everyday they leave talking about something we discussed.

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 is highly recommended for middle school and high school classrooms.  It is worthy of a place on the most selective bookshelves!