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the jericho river book coverReviewed by Alyssa Katanic

What was your favorite subject in school? It surprises me that most people say that they hated, or still do, the subject of history. Perhaps that is due to the pop quizzes and tests that ask questions such as, “When did the war of 1812 take place?” along with other difficult to recall dates and names of people and places. I, on the other hand, love history. Not because of dates and names that I, too, have a hard time recalling specifically, but because there are so many great stories passed down through legends, myths, war heroes, adventures, and accomplishments. It seems that many students today groan over history even louder than their parents did, once upon a time, but I am fortunate to have a rare bunch of kiddos who cannot get enough of the adventures of history, and whose groaning over the subject surrounds such horrible events as the burning down of the ancient library in Alexandria–a sad day, indeed!

From the time when my kids were very young we have not used regular text books of facts, but “living history” books that tell of the past through narratives, both true stories and historical fiction. The Jericho River: A Novel About the History of Western Civilization by David Tollen is one such new book based on ancient histories.

Tollen takes readers of about fourth grade and above through the history of Western Civilization from Ancient Sumer to modern times, visiting nearly every culture in between. Being a lawyer by trade, Tollen shows a love of research and does his fair share of adding his own twists as Jason, the main character, enters into a “dream voyage” of a land which echos our own in historical settings. Using the imagery of traveling down the main river as we travel down our timeline, Jason sets off in search of his father, a history professor best described as being fanatically obsessed with the myths, legends and fairy tales of history. Jason may have described him as a “nut-job”, but through his adventures Jason learns that the professor’s passions toward history are well placed.

Jason’s journey has him visiting 5000 years worth of historical landmarks and timeline events. Tollen throws in footnotes, supposedly taken from the writings and speeches of Jason’s father, in order to bring in a fuller, more correct account of the times and places in which Jason finds himself.

Tollen’s attempt to pull readers through 5000 years of history within the mere 320 pages that make up The Jericho River is extremely ambitious. Many cultures flew by much too fast for me to grasp them before sailing off to the next event on the timeline. I found it hard to stay engaged in the storyline because of this. However, children, and others new to the desire to read of such history, may be more satisfied with what they encounter as they read.

Overall, David Tollen’s The Jericho River is a very imaginative work that introduces readers to a taste of many different cultures along the 5000 year long timeline of the Western Civilization.

Get a sneak preview and read an excerpt here

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Alyssa Katanic is a wife and homeschooling mother of 7 children under 11 years old. She loves reading and collecting great books to share with others and knows that one can never have too many!

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by The Cadence Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.