Caroline Arnold's Books

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Easter Island Giant Stone Statues Tell of a Rich and Tragic Past Easter Island Giant Stone Statues Tell of a Rich and Tragic Past

Few places in the world are as mysterious or intriguing as Easter Island, a tiny, isolated outcrop of volcanic land that lies in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean. When Europeans first stumbled on the island--landing on Easter Sunday 1722--they found a rocky, treeless coast lined with rows of giant stone statues, and a quiet farming and fishing community. Since then, this remote island has raised many questions. Who were the first inhabitants and where did they come from? How did they live? And why did they create such huge stone structures?

This book explains how the answers to many of these questions have been uncovered by archeologists or found in legends and family histories. In about 400 A.D., a small group of seafarers reached the uninhabited island and established a new settlement incorporating many of the traditions found elsewhere in Polynesia. They developed a rich and complex culture that lasted for more than a thousand years. Today large jets traveling between Santiago, Chile, and Tahiti stop at Easter Island several times a week. Thousands of people come to the island each year to see the ancient giant stone statues and to explore what has been called the world's largest open-air museum. Continued study of this remote island will help us gain a better understanding of its people and their history, as well as the fascinating story behind the giant "living faces" that line its shores.Caroline Arnold was inspired to write this book after a trip to Easter Island where she had the opportunity to walk among the giant statues and learn about the people who made them long ago.

Prizes and Awards
  • Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal (December 2000 issue of SLJ)
  • Best Bet for the Classroom 2000 by the Virginia Center for Children's books
  • National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council
  • Notable Children's Book in the Field of Social Studies
  • California Collection, High School (California Readers)
  • Excellent 2000 Choices of Trade Books for Grades K-9 by Marilyn Carpenter, Ph.D., Eastern Washington University
  • Book notes

    Perhaps the most exotic site Iíve ever visited is Easter Island in the South Pacific, where I went to photograph and research this book. Although I had read about the giant statues and the people who made them a thousand years ago, nothing prepared me for standing in the ancient quarry amid dozens of half carved statues that never made it to their seaside platforms or climbing to the top of the cliff where the birdman rituals were once performed. My personal experience on Easter Island was important for bringing a sense of immediacy to my book, but the cost of time and travel meant that I could only spend a short time there. After I got home I needed to do extensive museum and library research as well. It took me a year to collect everything I needed and when I was ready to write I had a box bursting with notes, brochures, books, tapes, and other research materials. My book was for children ages ten and up so I knew I was limited to a manuscript of about 5000 words. Several months later, after distilling the mass of material I had collected to its essential points, the manuscript was ready to turn in to my editor. The agony of being a nonfiction writer is that the space allotted for text in the book is never enough for all that wonderful information that was discovered in the research. This is particularly true when writing for children since the text and page length of the book are relatively short. Even if I were able to include every detail, I donít want to overwhelm the reader by providing more than he or she wants to know. But there are several ways I supplement the information included in the main text and enrich the overall impact of the book: through captions, sidebars, charts, maps, time lines, projects, list of further resources, author notes and acknowledgments. Since most books for children are widely illustrated, there are ample opportunities to add information through captions. Minimally the caption needs to identify the illustration and show how it ties into the text, but often there is room to elaborate. For instance, in my book Easter Island, a scenic photo showing several cultivated fields has the following caption: View from the crater Puna Pau. Now, as in ancient times, much of Easter Islandís land is tilled for agriculture. (Captions are almost always written in the present tense.) Throughout the book I used captions not only to add information but to tie the photos and text together to create a more unified presentation.

    Related Books
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  • Stories in Stone
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  • Reviews
    School Library Journal, starred review

    "Arnold provides a clear and concise look at the island and the many mysteries that surround it, detailing its early settlement, its people and resources, and the rise and fall of its rich and complex civilization. One of the most intriguing questions that remains unanswered is how the ancient Rapanui people carved and erected hundreds of giant stone statues found all over the island. The author carefully explains how scientists have theorized on the early history and how the decimation over time of the islands natural resources and its isolation from trade routes may have led to its decline in population. The book concludes with a quick look at the tourism that is renewing pride in the unique heritage of the few hundred remaining Rapanui people, as the island becomes a model open-air museum."

    Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

    "Although the purpose of the moai [giant statues] that seem to stand sentinel around the famous island is obviously the intriguing mystery here, Arnold sets the stone figures into cultural perspective, examining what archaeologists, anthropologists, missionaries, explorers, and descendants of island settlers have discovered concerning the Polynesians who carved them. In a dozen succinct chapters she surveys the land and its original topography, discusses legends about the earliest settlers, reconstructs how the moai were carved, moved, and placed, and speculates on how deforestation, overfarming, overhunting, clan warfare, and European-borne disease contributed to the decline of the island civilization."