of the Center for Children's Books:
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books..
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Without much in the way of fireworks, Albert Marrin is quietly establishing himself as one of the main chronclers of American history for young people. While not all of his books have fit under that umbrella, most of them do in one way or another; one of the refreshing things about Marrin's scope is that his American history is more than just what's happened in the United States themselves post-revolution; he treats the history of the Americas, north and south and surrounding waters, and their place in the world. In twenty years of writing, he's amassed an oeuvre that covers subjects ranging from the war in Vietnam (America and Vietnam: The Elephant and the Tiger) to Drake's fearsome escapades on the Spanish Main (The Sea King), in biographies, examinations of particular events, and explorations of historic shifts.
Now chair of the history department at Yeshiva University, Marrin has impeccable credentials, but he uses his professorial skills for good rather than evil (perhaps recalling his days as a social studies teacher at the junior-high level). His use of primary sources and his rigorous employment of notes are second to none, and his ability to bring freshness to well-trodden literary ground such as Civil War battlefields reflects an excellent eye for arrangement and selection of material. It's ironic that that sounds like rather a dry and dusty talent, as it's one of the talents that keeps his books from being dry and dusty. The historian who just wants to write the good stuff and not plan the structure keeps the fun for him or herself; the one who does the hard labor makes it possible for the readers to join in the fun. And the professor, bless his historian's heart, can also write, conveying with every book a passion and enthusiasm for the making of history that most readers can slog through textbooks for years without ever encountering.
What's also somewhat ironic is that Marrin is reintroducing excitement to classic exciting history, history that thrilled readers of half a century ago but that has become somewhat passe since. Cowboys and Indians! Pirates! Incan gold! Marrin rescues these from the "been there, done that" stage that occurs after "tried and true" and keeps the old allure while giving the traditional components fresh context. Sir Henry Morgan (Terror of the Spanish Main) isn't just a swashbuckling and piratical figure but a stout colonial burgher out for the main chance, moving from bloodshed to bureaucracy and back again as he sees fit. Marrin's treatments of the Civil War (in Unconditional Surrender and Virginia's General) don't limn the famous at the expense of the rank and file, nor do they lose the politics in the war stories or the war stories in the politics. They're all, in Marrin's books, important parts of the larger current of history. The glorious sweep of that current is sometimes a hard thing to appreciate when you're just dipping your toes in it, but Marrin makes diving right in an exhilarating experience.
--Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor
This page was last updated on December 2, 1999.