‘The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome’ and ‘The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution’ Are Both ‘Handbooks for Time Travelers’ by Jonathan W. Stokes


Kids who love reading about history and facts will love “The Thrifty Guide” books, billed as “A Handbook for Time Travelers,” a time-traveling series by talented author Jonathan W. Stokes. Sprinkled throughout the books are references to vacation packages to exotic places/times like ancient Rome and other hot locales. There are also legal warnings like this one:

“If you are shot by a British musket, just remember, you signed a waiver. Enjoy your trip to the American Revolution!”

The two new releases are “The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome” and “The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution.”

In the book about Rome, readers will laugh out loud while they are learning truly fascinating facts about ancient Rome. For example, how many readers will know that “If you are a pyromaniac, Rome is the place to be.” This is explained clearly:

“Homes burn down nearly every night, an entire neighborhood burns down every two years, and the entire city burns down completely in AD 64. This is because open fires and olive oil lamps are the only source of fuel and light.”

The other information about ancient Rome continues to be fascinating. Their bathrooms were marvels — sitting up to 100 people at a time. There were no privacy stalls; men and women sat side by side chatting. No toilet paper, just a sponge on a stick sitting in running water. Interesting, yes — appealing, no.


The book also includes Yelp-type restaurant reviews which are worth a chuckle. And readers will be shocked by the section titled “Helpful Hints: Roman Marriage.” Brothers marryingIMG_4134 their sisters and their nieces, boys marrying at fourteen and girls at twelve, fining women over the age of twenty if they are single, women still under their fathers’ control even after marriage.

The book then delves into the people like Pompey, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and others. The stories are terrific, both entertaining and informative.

“The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution: A Handbook for Time Travelers” is just as funny, just as informative, and just as clever as the Rome book.

While most elementary school students study the Revolutionary War in fifth grade, that will not have prepared them for the information they will find in this book. They certainly won’t learn in school that powdered wigs came into fashion because of syphilis. Stokes writes:

“Syphilis makes men lose patches of hair and break out in bloody sores on their scalps. Embarrassed about their sores and bald patches, men start wearing wigs made of horse or goat or human hair. The wigs are smelly and attract lice because they’re made of unwashed hair or animal fur, so men begin dousing them with white powder, scented like orange or lavender. Once the king of France and the king of England begin wearing these wigs, the fashion spreads like syphilis, infesting the world for two centuries.

This book, or rather this time-travel vacation, begins with the Boston Tea Party and takes the intrepid traveler through the Revolutionary War. Along the way, the guide offers valuable advice. One set of suggestions is “People to have lunch with,” among whom are Salem Poor, “an African American militiaman whose heroism at the Battle of Bunker Hill wins him special recognition by the colony of Massachusetts,” and Betsy Ross, for obvious reasons.

There is also very important information that every time traveler should have, like what to do if you are shot by a musket.  The list includes the word “panic.”

But this series isn’t just for kids. Adults should be able to get in on the fun and learn about insignificant but fun information like the fact that Thomas Jefferson may have helped win the war by shipping a dead moose to France. (Intriguing, right? Read the book to find out why.)

IMG_4135Special note should be made of the illustrations, which are an important part of the books. David Sossella does a lovely job making cartoon-like drawings that fill the book and really are perfect for the middle grade reader. Included in the illustrations of each are descriptions and drawings of the dress of the time — so the time traveler will be able to dress appropriately, of course!

Include these two books in your classroom library or on your child’s bookshelf. Read a few chapters a night, or go big and finish it all over a weekend. You won’t be sorry.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by Viking, the publisher, for review purposes.

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