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Non-Fiction Monday: The Mysteries of Angkor Wat: Exploring Cambodia's Ancient Temple
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proseandkahn

by Richard Sobol. Traveling Photographer series. 48 p. Candlewick Press, August, 2011. 978-0-7636-4166-5 (Chosen to review for NJYS.)

I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Angkor Wat before picking up this informative, highly readable photo-essay. Endpapers feature an outline map of the world with Cambodia highlighted in blue down in southeast Asia and an illustration of the temple floating in the Indian Ocean. A slightly more detailed map of Cambodia, featuring the capitol, Phnom Penh, the Mekong River and Temple Sap Lake in relation to Siem Reap, accompanies the introduction.

The text is conversational. The font is a good size, surrounded by plenty of white space and watermarked borders, sometimes along the tops and bottoms, sometimes along the sides, which are reflective of some of the carvings found in the temple. Clear, crisp, well-captioned, full-color photographs, in a variety of size and page placement dominate.

Mr. Sobol hired a guide, the best guide to accompany him on his trek, but it was the children who spent their afternoons selling souvenirs to tourists at the temple gates who shared a secret with him. There were several things the author/ photographer did that I especially liked. He offered U.S. children an economic perspective without appearing to preach. His guide indicated that he would be picking him up in a brand new car and Mr. Sobol was surprised to find that the brand new car was a twelve-year-old Toyota! The children go to school each morning and work each afternoon to help pay their school fees. A photograph of some children at school features eager learners (who know all the state and country capitols of the world) in crowded, rather primitive conditions. He also juxtaposes carvings from the ancient temple with photographs from modern life, in which water is still drawn from a well and balanced on the shoulders of a woman.

The temple itself is awe-inspiring and the photos illustrate the scale of what is the largest religious monument in the world. Young readers will be intrigued by the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Khmer people around 1500. 

On his second to last day in Siem Reap, the children led him off the beaten path to show him their secret, a secret of which his highly recommended guide was unaware. What was it? Read the book and find out. A page of "Angkor Wat Facts" and a glossary round out the volume.

Other titles in this series: 
Breakfast in the Rainforest: a Visit with Mountain Gorillas
The Life of Rice: from Seedling to Supper

Non-fiction Monday is hosted this week by Jean Little Library.