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Elizabeth Mann (1948-) - Sidelights

review bridge brooklyn december

Elizabeth Mann's experience as a schoolteacher led her to write her first book, The Brooklyn Bridge, a well-regarded account about how the massive structure was built during the late 1800s. Mann was teaching her second-grade class in Brooklyn, New York, about the famous landmark and could tell that she was not generating any interest, as she remarked on the Mikaya Press Web site. She had worked hard to make the subject interesting, covering the classroom walls with illustrations and diagrams and planning a walk across the bridge for her students. Nevertheless, the students seemed bored, and Mann was stumped as to how to bring the story of the bridge to life. Only when she found some information on the Roebling family, who had invested nearly a decade and a half in building the bridge, and then related their story of struggle, failure, and triumph did her students begin to pay real attention.

Out of this experience, Mann developed the idea for her book about the Brooklyn Bridge. She and her husband, Stuart Waldman, agreed that children need attention-grabbing stories in their nonfiction books if they are to become truly interested in them. As a result, the couple formed Mikaya Press in 1995. With an emphasis on books with compelling narratives and striking illustrations, maps, charts, and timelines, Mikaya Press began publishing factual books for young readers. At first the press concentrated solely on Mann's work, but more recently it has published books by other authors as well.

The first book published by Mikaya Press was The Brooklyn Bridge, in which Mann tells the story of the bridge's construction. The author "effectively conveys the human drama of this great construction feat and provides lucid explanations of the technology and the building phases," wrote reviewer Margaret A. Bush in Horn Book. Susan Dove Lempke, writing in Booklist, praised the book for relating "the stories as adventures without ever resorting to melodrama."

Mann eventually retired from teaching to focus on writing. Like The Brooklyn Bridge, her subsequent books have all targeted young readers and focused on man-made wonders, including the Great Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Panama Canal, the Roman Colosseum, the South American Inca city of Machu Picchu, the Hoover Dam, the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, and the Empire State Building. She has said that her main goal is tell a good story, as she remarked on the Houghton Mifflin Education Place Web site. To help her in that goal, children, including her son, often critique her work paragraph by paragraph, marking them with a "G" for good or a "C" if the information is unclear. "It's very good feedback," she commented.

Mann's research for each book usually begins at the library or bookstore as she gathers a wide range of information, from the politics and cultures of the time of the man-made wonder to the machines and tools available to build it. For example, in The Great Wall readers learn not only about the Great Wall's construction but also about the history behind the decision to build it in the first place. This history behind the concept of the wall is "surprisingly accessible" in Mann's account, according to Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist.

As a former teacher, Mann has learned how to capture and maintain her young readers' attention. As a result, each of her titles provides a central resource for teachers of younger grade-school children. The books have also been received favorably by reviewers. For example, Joy Fleishhacker, writing a review of The Brooklyn Bridge and The Great Pyramid for School Library Journal, noted that the books "feature an informative mix of historical reproductions, striking illustrations, and clearly presented texts." In a review of Machu Picchu that appeared in Booklist, reviewer Ilene Cooper commented, "It is Mann's comfortable text that makes this [book] so special. She ably brings the Incas' complicated society into focus." Mara Alpert, writing in School Library Journal, may have summed up Mann's writing efforts best when she called Hoover Dam, "A wonderfully readable, well-organized book filled with fascinating detail."

Empire State Building: When New York Reached for the Skies continues Mann's exploration of amazing works of human craftsmanship. Not only does the author describe how the use of steel made tall buildings such as the Empire State Building possible, she also details how rapidly it was constructed and its impact on a nation reeling in the depths of the Great Depression. Begun in 1929 and finished in 1931, the skyscraper changed Manhattan forever. "Mann writes clearly and concisely, never sacrificing the drama of the story," wrote Kay Weisman in a Booklist review of the work. In School Library Journal, Delia Fritz called Empire State Building an "ideal resource" and promised that it "will capture the imaginations of report writers and general readers alike."

It is that goal that Mann has in mind when she writes. She knows that children are often required to read nonfiction books in school for reports and projects, but she has higher ambitions to satisfy. Her challenge, she says The thirty year construction of the Brooklyn Bridge during the second half of the 1800s is documented in Elizabeth Mann's book from the "Wonders of the World" series. (From The Brooklyn Bridge, illustrated by Alan Witschonke.) In her book from "Wonders of the World" series, Mann not only describes the erection of the Great Wall but the history of Chinese struggles that led up to the decision to create an invincible barrier. (From The Great Wall, illustrated by Alan Witschonke.) on the Houghton Mifflin Education Place Web site, is to create books that youngsters will read "not just for homework but for the sheer pleasure of it."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, February 1, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Brooklyn Bridge and The Great Pyramid, p. 937; January 1, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Great Wall, p. 806; December 15, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Roman Colosseum, p. 746; February 1, 1999, Sally Estes, review of The Panama Canal, p. 971; July, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Machu Picchu, p. 2033; December 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of The Roman Colosseum, p. 810; December 1, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Hoover Dam, p. 656; December 15, 2002, Kay Weisman, review of Tikal: Center of the Mayan World, p. 757; February 1, 2004, Kay Weisman, review of Empire State Building: When New York Reached the Skies, p. 973.

Children's Digest, December, 1997, review of The Brooklyn Bridge, p. 12; June, 1999, "It's a Wonderful World," p. 10.

Horn Book, May-June, 1997, Margaret A. Bush, review of The Brooklyn Bridge, p. 342; March-April, 2002, Betty Carter, review of Hoover Dam, p. 229.

Kirkus Reviews, November, 1, 1998, review of The Panama Canal, p. 1601; December 1, 2002, review of Tikal, p. 1770.

Publishers Weekly, November 11, 1996, review of The Brooklyn Bridge, p. 75; December 1, 1997, review of The Great Wall of China, p. 53; February 2, 2004, "Uncovering History," p. 79.

School Library Journal, June, 1997, Joy Fleishhacker, review of The Brooklyn Bridge and The Great Pyramid, p. 140; December, 1997, Shirley N. Quan, review of The Great Wall, p. 140; December, 1998, Carol Fazioli, review of The Panama Canal, p. 140; February, 1999, Cynthia M. Sturgis, review of The Roman Colosseum, p. 121; June, 2000, Daryl Grabarek, review of Machu Picchu, p. 168; December, 2001, Mara Alpert, review of Hoover Dam, p. 167; January, 2003, Ann Welton, review of Tikal, p. 165; April, 2004, Delia Fritz, review of Empire State Building, p. 174.

Science News, December 13, 2003, review of Empire State Building, p. 383.

Scientific American, December, 1997, Phylis Morrison and Philip Morrison, review of The Brooklyn Bridge, p. 126.

ONLINE

Houghton Mifflin Education Place, http://www.eduplace.com/kids/hmr/ (August 10, 2003), "Meet Elizabeth Mann."

Mikaya Press, http://www.mikaya.com/ (August 10, 2003), "About Mikaya."*

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