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The secrets of Vesuvius (A Time quest book) Hardcover – 1990
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The book opens with Dr. Bisel introducing herself as "The bone lady", a physical anthropologist who is offered the rare chance to study Roman skeletons. The Romans usually cremated their dead.
In the next section of the book, Dr. Bisel presents the fictional story of a young slave girl, Petronia. She is struggling to survive a cruel mistress and the volcanic fire beneath their homes. As Petronia's story enfolds, we meet the individuals who are later revealed as the skeletons discovered in sealed boat tunnels.
The fictional narrative, historical information, and scientific revelations are interspersed throughout the text. The pace is effective, quick, yet absorbing.
Because of beautifully written descriptions, strong images, and well-crafted characters, we quickly care about individuals in their last moments before and during the eruption. At the same time, we learn about the artifacts and daily life of Ancient Rome as well as the effects of the eruption on the sealed city.
I use this in my classroom with 6th graders. My primary lesson is "Good non-fiction uses the same writing techniques as good fiction." I hope they will never accept non-fiction as routinely boring after they have finished this book.
Dr. Bisel deserves a "Golden Pen Award" for this excellent work.
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