Wednesday, August 19, 2009

REVIEW: Strange But True America: Weird Tales from All 50 States

Title: Strange But True America: Weird Tales From All 50 States
Author: John Hafnor
Illustrator: Dale Crawford
Genre: history
Price: $16.95
Publisher: Lone Pine Productions
ISBN: 978-0-9648175-5-5
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I have a degree in history and a great interest in the subject, so when John Hafnor’s request to review Strange But True America: Weird Tales From All 50 States came across my email I jumped at the request. It’s an enjoyable and well-written book.

Strange But True is a large format book and heavily illustrated, and consists of a one-page story about or set in each US state, accompanied by an appropriate black and white illustration. As suggested by the title, I learned a lot of things not covered by typical history books. For example, the Vermont section tells the story of the Vermont Republic, a period from 1777 to 1791 when Vermont operated as an independent nation. This was in part due to Ethan Allen’s personal interests, and part out of a desire to not be part of New York. In fact, Vermont overcame New York’s objections to entering the Union chiefly as a free state counterbalance to Kentucky’s entry.

Each state gets at least one such interesting tale, and a few, such as my native Illinois, get two sections. Hefnor is a good writer, and the stories are told in an engaging and well-written manner. This book is very slickly produced, and if I didn’t know who “Lone Pine Productions” was, I would have no idea that it was effectively self-published. Having said that, the target audience for this book is two-fold; kids (junior high and up) and people who don’t read books.

You see that in part in Hefnor’s style, which is written to eighth-grade level following AP news article style. Also, the book itself is large, in 8 by 10 format, and a series of 50 state postcards are being marketed in truck stops as a tourist item. There are also two sections at the end providing shorter tales about various states. One of these sections in particular, called “When Doomsday Came Calling In Your State” lists every accidental nuclear bomb drop (fortunately none of which went off) in the US. This section in particular is designed to target (sorry!) junior-high boys everywhere.

Which is not a bad thing – junior high boys can grow up to be readers too. (Ask me – I was one!) Overall this is a very enjoyable read, and excellent as a gift to younger readers.

RATING 10/10

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