By: Francesca Davis Dipiazza
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: August 2010
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 2011
Do you know what bryndzave halusky are? If you do then you will not only know they are "small potato dumplings, topped with bacon and sheep's milkcheese" but that they are the national dish of Slovakia. Slovakia is a small, landlocked country in the "heart of Europe." Its long political, and sometimes tumultuous history, began in the 5th century A.D. with the arrival of the Slavs, the Slovaks' ancestors. In this book you will read about how the people of this country were once a part of the Morovian Empire, Hungary, and later Czechoslovakia. You'll also learn about the changing political climate throughout time. For example, one of the more recent changes saw the country adopt its own constitution after separating from Czechoslovakia in 1993.
This mountainous country is "about the size of West Virginia," and if you glance at the map in this book you can easily identify its mountain ranges, rivers, the elevation of the land, and its surrounding countries. The Danube, "Europe's second largest river," is the "only river deep enough for commercial ships." Fifty-six percent of Slovakia's 5.4 million people are "city dwellers." You'll learn about their lifestyles, specifically their traditional values in which they find "hard work, a sense of humor, and a willingness to help one another out," to be of particular importance. Of course hospitality, politeness, and "professional achievement" also rank high on their list. You'll also read about their universal healthcare system ("free basic health care for everyone"), their cultural life, their language, how they "value education highly," and their religious and ethnic groups. One unusual minority that many will find interesting are the Roma, a group of people who "probably originally came from India" and "have faced centuries of prejudice and discrimination."
The Slovakian people have a rich literary tradition, but much of their writers' works is "not yet widely available in English." There are many folktales and legends that have come down by "word of mouth." Their art includes the folk arts of wood carving, glass painting, fabric arts, and things like "hand-blown and hand-cut crystal glassware." If you read closely you will learn how and why "artists' freedoms" had been restricted. Their music, something they can take great pride in, is "one of the richest in central Europe." You'll learn about the fujara, fanforka, gajdy, and the cymbal, all traditional Slovak instruments. Yes, they even like musical styles like Hip Hop as the "Slovak musicians embraced western styles." Naturally such a small country doesn't have a Hollywood, but it was the "tenth country in the world to make feature-length films." There are many things to learn about this fascinating and beautiful country. You'll also learn about their flora and fauna, their undeveloped forests, specific challenges the country faces, their climate, their natural resources, environmental issues (pollution), industries, what they manufacture, you'll get to take an in depth look at their history and government, their holidays, foods, their tourist attractions, and you'll learn many more interesting facets of this very interesting country. If you think bryndzave halusky sound delicious you can even try your hand at making them from the recipe included in these pages!
This book proved to be a wonderful whirlwind tour through Slovakia, and once the information is on the publisher's website there will be additional links to the land, the people, cultural life, teacher resources, and links to things such as video clips. There will be photographs, maps, and a flag that can be downloaded for reports. There are instructions on how to print images, how to create an outline for a report, report writing tips, and instructions on how to write a bibliography. The site can be accessed by any student who needs a "homework helper." There are numerous photographs, informative sidebars, and a map inside the pages of this book. One of the more interesting sidebars is about Elizabeth Bathory, the "Blood Countess," one of the "deadliest female serial killers in history." In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, a timeline, a brief description of Slovakian currency, some fast facts, sections on the flag, the national anthem, biographies of famous people, a listing of sights to see, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore.
Quill says: This is a fascinating look at Slovakia, a small central European country that the young geography buff will enjoy reading about.