BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Middleworld (available here) by J&P Voelkel is one of the most popular books we’ve recommended to Upper KS2 to support the Ancient Maya topic. We interviewed J&P last year at the beginning of their first UK book tour to celebrate the UK launch of the second title in the Jaguar Stones series: The End of the World Club. We caught up with them again this week to hear about all the new (and free!) Maya-themed educational resources they’ve created for UK teachers inspired by their UK tour.
Read our interview with J&P Voelkel, then scroll down to find out how to get a free Virtual Author Visit.
with J&P Voelkel, authors of Middleworld
Although we’ve Skyped with UK schools for a number of years, this was the first time we’ve had the opportunity to meet with students face to face, and hear more about their Maya studies. The itinerary was quite ambitious, packing in school visits right across the country. (Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Essex, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire). We landed in blissful ignorance at the very beginning of Covid when no one – especially airlines – seemed to be taking it seriously. However, as the tour progressed the situation changed dramatically. We had a bit of a scramble towards the end, to get back to the states before they started cancelling flights and shutting down travel from the UK. We were devastated to have had to cancel the last two schools on our tour, but felt fortunate that we’d managed to visit so many before everything closed down.
Of course, the biggest highlight of the tour was meeting so many of our UK readers and their amazing teachers – and seeing the stunning work they’d produced for their Maya units. We were blown away! We took the opportunity to have in-depth discussions with teachers to see how they were using the Jaguar Stones books in their studies, and to understand what support material and resources they used or needed. It was a really interesting and productive week, and we came back brimming with ideas.
What did the UK teachers tell you?
It was interesting to see how consistent the comments were across the different schools. Teachers often pick the Maya as a topic because they know the students are likely to find it exciting – they’re intrigued by a mysterious civilization with lost pyramids in the jungle – and of course, there’s always the frisson of human sacrifice. However once the teachers set out to create the unit, they spend a lot of time scouring the internet looking for videos and material they can use. They quickly discover that there’s a huge inconsistency in the quality and accuracy of the available information. Each teacher had specific wants and concerns, but the item at the top of everyone’s shopping list was a comprehensive comparative timeline, setting the Maya in the context of British and world history.
These resources are available now and they are all free. They can be accessed here: https://jaguarstones.com/teachers/lessonplans.html
Why do you work so hard on Maya educational resources, only to give them away free?
The short answer is that it’s the least we can do. We know it’s not easy for teachers to find reliable facts about the Maya, because we remember how hard it was for us when we started researching Middleworld. Many of the canon textbooks are out of date now, and there’s so much nonsense about the Maya on the Internet, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.
The long answer concerns our first research trip to Guatemala, many years ago. We were exploring a site called Yaxha with a local guide, when a group of Maya teenagers started following us. It turned out they wanted selfies with our son who’s very tall by Guatemalan standards. (They also took photos of his size 14 feet.) Our guide watched for a while, then stepped forward and made a speech in Spanish: “Yes, remember these people,” he said, “but not because their son is tall. Remember them because they’re writing a book about you – and soon, children in the United States will be reading about your history and your culture.” The gum-chewing, hoodie-wearing Maya teens stared at us in surprise for a moment, then burst into applause.
We were horrified. Our plan had been simply to write an exciting adventure set in the jungles of the Maya. Now we were suddenly being tasked with something much bigger – to tell a story that would honor those kids at Yaxha. But we knew our guide was right. The fact is that the Maya have been exploited, lied about, and oppressed ever since the first European explorers arrived on their shores. They didn’t need us adding to the pile on. So however well-meaning our intentions, we knew our first job was to get our facts straight. We ended up learning to read and write Maya glyphs, befriending archaeologists, hanging out at digs, studying Maya astronomy with NASA, getting to know modern Maya people, even doing school visits in the mountains of Chiapas. We’ve been helped by so many people and had so many amazing experiences, it seems only fair to share the knowledge we’ve acquired.
You’ve just launched a virtual author visit. How did that come about?
Initially, we’d planned to make a short video to send to the two UK schools that we had to cancel due to the pandemic. The children had been looking forward to the visit and we felt bad about the way circumstances had forced us to let them down. Of course, at that time we had no idea how everything was about to change. Once we returned to America, we found we had to cancel our entire schedule of school visits here as well. We couldn’t do in-person visits, but many of the schools asked us if there was any way we could do a remote visit.
Of course, we’re always happy to do Zoom Q&A sessions, but talking heads can’t capture the adventure and excitement that we try to convey on school visits. The challenge was to figure out how to take the fact-packed fun of our high energy, in-person visits and make it work on the screen. It took us months and endless reshoots, but we’re really pleased with the final results. The 30 minute pre-recorded visit takes students on a fast-paced journey to Central America to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of the rainforest. We created animated clips to provide insights on the Maya, past and present, and we share some of our experiences in researching, writing and illustrating the series. In the end, I think the new format allows us to share much more information and be much more entertaining than ever before. And of course, it’s not necessary for students to have read the Jaguar Stones books beforehand.
***VIRTUAL AUTHOR VISIT – EXCLUSIVE OFFER***
Enjoy J&P’s new virtual author visit FREE – exclusively for BooksForTopics readers!
J&P Voelkel are offering teachers on BooksForTopics a code for free access to their on-demand virtual author visit. (It normally sells for £50 or requires the purchase of 10 or more Jaguar Stones books.) You’ll receive a private YouTube link, personalized to the name of your school, which can be used on multiple devices and is valid for two months. To claim your free virtual visit, go to: https://jaguarstones.com/teachers/virtualvisit.html, fill out the School Visit Request form, and enter code B4T2021 in the comments box.
“Ko’ox” – that’s Mayan for “Let’s go!”
Many thanks to the authors for answering our questions and providing the free author visit code for our readers.
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