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Book Reviews

Secrets in Stone: All About Maya Hieroglyphs

by Laurie Coulter, Sarah Jane English, illus.

Looking at Maya hieroglyphics,” this book informs readers, “is like looking at a plate of spaghetti.” How to unlock this ancient code was a mystery that has challenged scientists and others for years. This book relates the adventures of the codebreakers from the rediscovery of lost Central American cities in 1839 to the major glyph decoding by Americans Linda Schele, Michael Coe, and Floyd Lounsbury in 1973 and beyond.
Six chapters unravel the intriguing linguistic puzzle and shed light on the Maya class system, calendar, and other aspects of their way of life. A helpful map situates the Maya lands and outlines the routes of the British explorers who first brought the glyphs to international attention. Historic photographs, pictures of the artifacts, and artistic renderings by illustrator Sarah Jane English of people wearing quetzal-plumed headdresses provide another view into the Maya world. The book’s design shows attention to visual detail, with page numbers shown in Maya glyphs as well as our familiar numerals, and with text set on paper that looks like stone. Some hands-on activities are suggested, such as throwing a Maya theme party and making rubbings from the raised “GlyphMaster” alphabet at the back of the book.
In writing about Maya hieroglyphs, Toronto author Laurie Coulter tackles a very complex topic. This book requires sequential reading and thinking time for comprehension; trying to skim it for information in the boxes will be confusing.However, bright children with strongly developed reading skills will find the mystery uncovered in this sophisticated book stimulating.