Thursday, April 26, 2012

THE GOLDEN BULL by Marjorie Cowley

Cowley, Marjorie. The Golden Bull. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2008. ISBN: 978-1-58089-181-3. $15.95. Ages 10-14. 

Marjorie Cowley gives you little buildup before plunging immediately into the issue: A drought has come over Mesopotamia and Jomar and his sister Zefa must leave their farm and family to travel to Ur. Without food, the family has no choice but to send them away. Jomar’s father has arranged an apprenticeship for him with a goldsmith, but twelve year old Zefa must find other work—she’s not part of the arrangement.

Like many historical fiction novels for young readers, child characters are forced by dire circumstances into adult roles: Jomar, as the older sibling, bears the responsibility both to protect his sister and to find her work in the city. Zefa, however, proves herself a responsible young woman, saving them on multiple occasions with her compassion, bravery, and musical ability. The story truly belongs to Jomar, however, as he learns to care for his sister, to thank those who sacrifice for him, and to act with understanding and wisdom. Ultimately, it is the genuine self-sacrifice and honesty of both siblings that saves them from harm in the big city of Ur.

Cowley’s writing is filled with historical details about the social structure, city design, government, religion, and trade of ancient Mesopotamia, even describing the earliest application of the written word—as receipts! The author’s note at the end also includes historical information, describing the religion of Mesopotamia and the means by which scholars study this ancient society.

As a history teacher, I’m pleased to include this book in my collection of young adult historical fiction. Cowley’s work is engaging and historically accurate, a wonderful combination for budding (or not-so-budding) historians!

Marisa Behan

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