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Pompeii: Lost and Found    by Mary Pope Osborne & Bonnie Christensen order for
by Mary Pope Osborne
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

How can the story of the sudden destruction of Pompeii - a moment in history frozen in time by cooling volcanic lava - not catch the imagination? In Pompeii: Lost and Found, Mary Pope Osborne feeds our fascination with the 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Bonnie Christensen illustrates the text aptly in the style of ancient Roman frescoes (wall paintings), emphasizing the tragedy visually by showing us details of daily life.

Osborne introduces us to 'a thriving Roman town on the Mediterranean Sea ... just six miles below a huge volcano'. Signs, such as a choppy sea and dogs howling, went unnoticed until a huge blast in early afternoon, followed by a bombardment of stones, poisonous gases, and ash that turned day into night. The town and its inhabitants were buried. It was not until 1763 that the site was identified after ruins were gradually unearthed. Now, archaeologists have uncovered about two thirds of lost Pompeii, including frescoes of scenes of daily life and graffiti that gives voice to the townspeople. One page shows objects found in the ruins and challenges readers to guess their use (with answers at the back of the book, as well as instructions on making a fresco).

Osborne tells us how archaeologists have poured plaster into spaces in the hardened ash to make poignant statues of families huddled together. She speaks of slavery (about 8,000 out of the town's 20,000 people) in Pompeii, and depicts the violent and usually short life of celebrated gladiators. And we learn about children's schooling, play, and pets (we're told that doves were popular). The author concludes her fascinating account by telling us that, though the remains of a tenth of the townsfolk have been unearthed, no one really knows how many perished in the disaster that hit Pompeii.

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