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Jody's Adventures: Jody's Michigan Adventures Review by Dawn Oaks

Leigh Arrathoon and John Davio
Paint Creek Press
620 Miller Ave.
Rochester, MI 48307

Does your family enjoy historical fiction as much as mine? Do you love to gather on the couch for some read-aloud time and let your minds travel on a magical journey? What about applying this same love for fiction to your study of state history or even preparations for a family vacation? Jody's Adventures may be just the key to explorations through Michigan.

This book set contains seven individual books that address a different great place in the State of Michigan. The places highlighted in this series are Greenfield Village, Detroit, Holland, Mackinac Island, Frankenmuth, the Upper Peninsula, and Michigan's Northwest. The books are written at a level that most 3rd through 6th graders could read, but they also make great read-aloud books so the whole family can enjoy them at one time. Each book is wonderfully illustrated in a fun cartoon, watercolor feel that your children will adore. 

Our family does not live in Michigan, nor have we ever visited there. Traveling on this virtual tour of sorts was an incredible way for our children to be able to experience the history and richness of Michigan without leaving our own home. Each book is jam-packed with information about the historical landmarks and points of interest. While journeying through Greenfield Village, we learned about the Henry Ford Museum, the Grand Trunk Depot, the Ackley Covered Bridge, the Cape Cod Windmill, the Cotswold Cottage and Forge, Noah Webster's House, the Wright Brother's home and Cycle Shop, Thomas Edison's laboratory in Menlo Park, Luther Burbank's Garden Office, the Hermitage Slave Houses, and the McGuffey Schoolhouse. As we traveled along, our adventures became more real as the children were able to plot their "travels" on a Michigan State map and also smaller travel-size maps of specific regions or cities. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the abundance of biographical information in the books with regard to key figures in the state's history. While traveling through Greenfield Village, we got to know a bit more about Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Luther Burbank, George Washington Carver, and Noah Webster. We learned about their childhoods, their contributions to our country, and their relationship to the State of Michigan. 

The Frankenmuth book highlights a culture rather than significant figures from history. Frankenmuth is of a strong Bavarian ancestry and so much of this is explored in this little book. The customs, dress, and music of this culture are all explored. You can even learn a little bit of German along the way. This same cultural orientation is seen in the Holland book as we learn all about the traces of the Dutch influence in this part of Michigan even up to the present. These cultural studies into the heritage of Michigan really helped our children learn about the significance of those who immigrated here and how the cultures of their homelands helped to shape America. This is a nice contrast to a lot of the racism and prejudice that we see today. 

This wonderful wealth of knowledge is revealed within the diaries and adventures of the Murphy family as we follow them on their own family vacations to the destinations described in the books. Kevin and Katie Murphy's personalities and sibling banter bring the stories alive; not to mention the antics of Katie's animated stuffed mouse, Jody, and his friends. The stories are told from the children's and stuffed animals perspectives. The dialogue and thoughts are truly those of children, bringing the stories to life for your own children in a way they can totally relate to. No boring historical or tour guide feel here.

A small but significant feature of these books is the bold typeface used to highlight new vocabulary words. Following each word, a definition of the word is given in parentheses. I really appreciated this feature, as many times children are tempted to just skip over unfamiliar words rather than stopping to look them up. 

Jody's Adventures has proven to be a thrill and adventure. Our family has learned so much about the State of Michigan and its rich heritage. The biographical and cultural information helped our children see the importance that each of our great 50 states plays in shaping America. Our next adventure may be in reworking the family budget to fit in a trip to visit these historical sites in Michigan. Until that time, the Internet has proven to be a wonderful resource in exploring particular landmarks and historical figures that we were introduced to through this wonderful book set.

Product review by Dawn Oaks, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2010