Bronze as the focus of a lively and dazzling non-fiction book
Do not underestimate bronze. Bronze was revolutionary in the history of humankind: this alloy of copper and tin was the first metal from which tools were made with no other purpose than to wound. The result was war. The trade in bronze also led to great wealth for the first time. And, writes the archaeologist and author Linda Dielemans in her first non-fiction book, bronze axes were universal carriers of information, ‘the maps of the Bronze Age’.
Dielemans presents the information, based on what she learned from the Leiden archaeologist David Fontijn, with wonder and sometimes surprise — in keeping with the best recent Dutch non-fiction books for children. Writers including Jan Paul Schutten and Annet Huizing have succeeded in turning themes such as evolution, quantum mechanics and the law into an exciting adventure. Like them, Dielemans does not shy away from abstract subjects or difficult words.
It takes real skill, though, to make an impersonal and seemingly unsexy subject such as bronze the focus of a lively and dazzling children’s book. Dielemans has used an intriguing device to achieve this: she alternates between non-fiction chapters and evocatively illustrated fictional stories, told from the perspective of the bronze. ‘We are still glowing when we are scooped out from the coals, and we shiver when we fall into the bowl of water,’ say the lumps of metal when the copper is fused with the tin. ‘He is afraid. I can feel it. The hand holding me is shaking,’ the bronze axe says about its owner.
Dielemans enlivens her theme with this animistic starting point — the sensitive, effective style evokes empathy with earlier times. These bronze objects go through all kinds of things, from bloody fights to sacrificial rituals, illustrating the importance and value of such items to the people who owned them. By taking this approach, writer Dielemans and illustrator Te Loo add something essential to what we can see in a museum display case, and that is: a story.