Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.
As a retired language arts teacher and more than avid genealogist, I was excited to have the opportunity to review Gianna the Treasure Hunter by Becky Villareal, also a retired teacher who lives in Texas and enjoys writing and family history.
There are some real positives about this book.
First, I love that an author is filling a niche for young children in the hopes of developing a keen interest in learning about their own family history.
Second, I love the plot line that explains how Gianna and her classmate Stephanie embark on the journey, with the help of Stephanie’s French grandmother, to learn about her family history.
Stephanie’s story was interesting enough to make me want to learn more about her family, particularly since her father, who apparently had no real interest in the subject, was drawn in by the discovery of some family books.
Becky Villareal is a talented children’s story teller. Gianna the Treasure Hunter is a wonderful title to open the door to the idea that treasure comes in many forms and family history is definitely one of them. America is truly a melting pot and the multi-cultural aspect to the story is another positive.
However, being a retired teacher, I looked at this book with a much different eye than I do when reviewing an adult-oriented book, whether it be fiction or reference. I am at a slight disadvantage as I haven’t read the first two of Gianna’s stories, Gianna the Great and Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues, but I am assuming that the first two stories about Gianna are in a similar vein and structure to this one.
To review a children’s book, I checked the suggested age range on Amazon, which is for children in grades 1-5. I also looked much more closely at the structure of the book and the details in it.
Here are my observations.
First, I think Gianna is well suited for a parent reading to young children (5-7 years old) to introduce them to family history. Yet, having said that, a bit of ground work would have to be laid and explained to the child/ren. Paragraph 2 in Chapter 1 talks about Gianna’s excitement about finding a picture of her grandmother in an online border crossing record. I don’t think I know any young children who would have any idea what that record even was. No explanation was given about it.
While I like that a sophisticated term like border crossing record (for young children) is in the book, it definitely should be in the glossary. There is a short glossary in the back of the book, which I love, but it only contains the foreign language words found in the book. Somewhere, either in the text or glossary, border crossing record needs to be defined and an adult needs to reinforce verbally exactly what it is/was used for.
The same comment needs to be made with terms like genealogy, genealogy link and ship’s manifest. These words need to be explained beforehand and a paper copy of a ship’s manifest should be at hand to share with the child/ren.
Second, because the book seems most appropriate for children ages 8 and under, my eyes opened a bit wide with the notion that Gianna, at her age, was off chasing ancestors online at school, even if Mr. Williams was in charge of the Genealogy Club. The story should state that Mr. Williams is directly helping students as a search is being made. (In reality, most public school systems block sites like Ancestry, YouTube and others that one would need to research family history in a classroom.)
Next, I like the chapter lengths as they are short enough to hold a young child’s interest and still have some time to talk about the story together.
Fourth, it has been many years since I took my two years of high school French, but I believe there are mistakes in the French phrases in the story. This is a big concern to me. (See the Glossary at the back of the book.) For example, Quelle est cette mère? means literally, word for word, What is this mother? Imagine someone looking at an object with no idea of what it is and asking “What is this thing?” That’s the meaning of Quelle est cette mère? with the word mother substituted.
I vividly remember my French teacher going around the classroom asking each student Qu’est-ce que c’est, Linda? or What is this, Linda? and we had to answer This is a . . . . . Therefore, I believe the question in Gianna the Treasure Hunter should correctly be phrased, “Qu’est ce que c’est, Mère?” A comma makes a huge difference here, too. One isn’t asking what “this mother” is, but is asking Mother a question.
There is the same issue with mon chéri, or my dear. Unless I am way off, that would be said to a male. Grandmother speaking to Stephanie would say ma chérie.
I’ve had many years of Spanish and noted right away that the Mexican food buñuelos is also misspelled.
These are details that an editor should pick up on and correct before publication.
Lastly, I’d like to discuss the physical structure of the book. With the font size as big as it is, I can’t see many of my former (grades 4-8) students choosing this book to read. I’m mentioning this because the suggested age range is through grade 5. I think most fourth and fifth graders would find this book looks too babyish. The cover also reinforces the idea that this book is more geared to very young readers, as Gianna and Stephanie appear to be quite young.
Illustrator Jessica Marie Balli has drawn each of the characters in this story, which is important, as it helps young children connect with the story. Balli, like Villareal, is also talented at what she does. Her depictions of each person are colorful and fun. For presentation in a book, however, particularly a read-aloud, her images should have much more of a presence on the page.
That brings me to my last comment. Perhaps the small images were a space-saving device. However, it is a bit odd that every single chapter opens one third of the way down the page.The empty space would be much better used filling it with larger images. :
Finally, the book cover displays a seal stating Readers’ Favorite. Five Stars, but I couldn’t find any explanation in the book about the organization that awarded it. I’d like to know, just because that type of information interests me. Teachers would likely also want to know who gave a seal of approval. Acknowledgements by the author on page i would be a good spot to include that information.
Overall, if I were grading this as a teacher, I’d give the story line a B+ because I really enjoyed the story, aside from my handful of concerns. I think Becky Villareal has written an engaging story that young children will enjoy with a bit of teaching beforehand.
It appears that Gianna the Treasure Hunter might be self published, as the only publication data that I find on the book is “Made in the USA, Lexington, KY 29 March 2018,” meaning that the book was most likely self-edited and/or self-published.
Most of us don’t do a very good job editing our own writing and I include myself in that description. Rewriting and running down miscellaneous details are not my favorite activities. However, if I were publishing a book, not only would I be double checking my work, I’d have at least one other person doing the same if self-publishing. Because of the foreign language errors, I’d have to give a grade of D to the editor of Gianna the Treasure Hunter, whoever that might be.