Booklist: Best children's books about the Maya

The Maya

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The Maya civilisation topic offers a wealth of interesting history to explore - from impressive pyramids and cities to complex calendars and a rich cultural heritage still prevalent in Central America today. We've picked out some of our favourite texts suitable for primary school children to help explore the Maya topic.

Middleworld (Jaguar Stones)
J&P Voelkel
Chapter book

An action-packed and thoroughly researched adventure novel filled with suspense and excitement, with a good level of depth for upper KS2. This book, which is the first in a popular series, tells the story of fourteen-year-old Max, who finds himself on a quest to rescue his archaeologist parents from the Maya underworld and to save the world from the Lords of Death. 

You can also sign up for a free virtual school visit from the authors over on our blog.

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The Curse of the Maya
 Johnny Pearce  & Andy Loneragan 
Chapter book

An exciting action-packed thriller based on the excavation of a newly found Maya city, best suited to Year 6 or beyond. The tale follows twin twelve-year-olds Verity and Ethan, who travel to Guatemala with their father. Whilst excavating a Maya site, an ancient mask is discovered. Is the mask the cause of the end of the Maya civilisation, or is something more underhand going on?

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Rain Player
David Wisniewski
Picture book

A quality picture book with high visual appeal, with the bold and colourful illustrations that are made using the cut-paper technique. The story of Rain Player centres on a boy who is challenged to save his people from drought by defeating the Rain god at a Mayan ball game. 

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The Chocolate Tree: A Mayan Folktale
Linda Lowery & Janice Lee Porter.
Illustrated chapter book

This is a popular choice of a story based on Mayan folktale for KS2, and is useful as an enjoyable basis for exploring Mayan folklore rather than for looking at historical details with accuracy. It tells the tale of the Mayan king who brings his people the gift of a chocolate tree, much to the displeasure of his brother, Night Jaguar, who plots to rid the people of this special treat and keep it for the gods. The Chocolate Tree has a high appeal to lower KS2 because of its accessible text, fun premise and bold illustrations.

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Popol Vuh
 Victor Montejo, Luis Garay & David Unger
Illustrated story collection

This is a children's retelling of a Mayan sacred book that explains key creation myths including of the coming into being of the universe, the world of Mayan gods and demi-gods and the creation of human beings. Ideal as a story collection to be dipped into with Upper KS2, this richly illustrated book gives an insight into the fascinating world of Mayan mythology. 

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The Hero Twins: Against The Lords Of Death
Jolley Dan & Witt David 
Graphic novel

The Hero Twins: Against the Lords of Death is a graphic novel with a high level of appeal to children in upper KS2. Follow the tale of the hero twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, whose special skills at the Mayan ball game Po-ta-Pok cause upset to the rulers of the land of the dead. The illustrations and added text are full of extra details that will keep pupils interested in the Ancient Maya topic.

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The Great Kapok Tree
Lynne Cherry
Picture book

The Ancient Maya believed that the Kapok tree was sacred. Although this story does not directly mention the Maya, it centres around the fate of a Kapok tree in the Amazon rainforest and for this reason many teachers use this popular text alongside their Maya topic. This is a colourful and engaging picture book that captures the spirit of the rainforest through its beautifully detailed illustrations. It has a simple story line that is accessible to less confident readers but a strong message about deforestation and enough depth to captivate older readers too. Check out the accompanying unit of work from KS2History

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The History Detective Investigates: Mayan Civilization
Clare Hibbert
Information book

This jam-packed information text is written especially for the UK National Curriculum and answers a range of questions about the Mayan Civilization. Topics in The History Detective Investigates: Mayan Civilization include Mayan cities, kings, pyramids and food.

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The Maya and Chichén Itzá (Time Travel Guides)
Ben Hubbard
Information book

An information text in the format of a 'time travel guide', which takes readers back to over 1,000 years ago to a place called Chichén Itzá. There, you'll find out about all things Maya related, including how to climb the steep Kukulkun temple, where to watch traditional Mayan ball game and how to sample some delicious chilli-spiced drinking chocolate.

More ideas...
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