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“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue... More

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Author: Karen Blumenthal

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Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, an Imprint of Macmillan Publishing, 2015

Material: hard cover

Summary: US Army officer John Taliaferro Thompson was an ordnance specialist. He had a mission: to build a weapon that would improve firepower for military and law enforcement officials. The Thompson submachine gun (aka "Tommy gun") was the weapon he conceived. What he had not planned for was its use by criminals, who not only popularized the weapon, but were one of the company's biggest buyers. This is an illustrated nonfiction history for middle grade and young adults.

Type of Reading: anytime reading, independent reading

Recommended Age: read together: 12 and Up; read yourself: 13 and Up

Interest Level: 12 to 18

Reading Level: 8.3

Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.

Adult Reader Reaction: There is a lot to absorb in this book, not the least of which is a history of gun control and the politics associated with it. The photographs and illustrations are probably the best part and tell a much better story. By midway through, the book transitions from the history of the Tommy gun to mini-biographies of John Dillinger, Lester Joseph Gillis (aka Baby Face Nelson), Homer Cummings, and J. Edgar Hoover. Although the author talked about how the media "glorified" the crime sprees and use of the Tommy gun by criminals, when she moves away from the core story - the history of the gun - she perpetuates that glorification in the way she presents the material.

Pros: Exceptional, high quality photographs will entice readers to want to learn more about how the Thompson submachine gun came to become such a notorious weapon. Embedded with that is a history of gun control, which can help teens and young adults understand historical choices and political processes.

Cons: The story moves from the biography of a specific weapon to recounting the criminal histories of Dillinger, et al, and it becomes harder to follow. The in-content references to current situations (e.g., Sandy Hook) are neither appropriate nor relevant.

Borrow or Buy: Borrow. It is worth your time to look at the pictures. They set an excellent historical context for the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.

If You Liked This Book, Try: AMERICA: THE MAKING OF A NATION   BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWS   CRIME THROUGH TIME: NABBED! The 1925 Journal of G. Codd Fitzmorgan

Educational Themes: There is a lot of material about gun control-related issues that can be extracted for discussion. There is the context of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, but also the socio-economic positions, as well.

Notes: This reviewer borrowed a copy of this book from the library as part of the 2015 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award (Cybils) process. This review is not intended to represent the opinions of the Cybils. The book will be donated to a reader in need.

Literary Categories: Nonfiction - US history, crime, biography, inventions, Young Adult, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s

Date(s) Reviewed: February 2016

Other Reviews: See Critics' Reviews at; and reviews and reader feedback at


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