Title: Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science
Authors: Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
Publisher: Clarion Books - Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Concepts: trade, slavery, social justice, racial inequality, agricultural production, natural resources, consumers and producers, taxes, child labor
Review: The cultivation and production of sugar has a long history that shaped trade routes, drove the expansion of slave labor, helped to trigger the American Revolutionary War, and satisfied the sweet tooth of people around the globe. It did not take long for the cultivation of sugar cane, traced back to circa 9000 B.C. in New Guinea, to trigger a growing demand for the sweet plant, which contributed to new trade routes across Asia and ultimately most regions of the world.
Sugar production, a highly labor-intensive process until recent times, evolved into a organized process in which growing and grinding the cane both took place on specialized plantations. For hundreds of years plantation owners relied on the cheapest form of labor - slaves - to work the sugar plantations. Between the 1500s and the 1800s, sugar production grew rapidly, especially in South America, as did the trade in enslaved people, mostly from Africa. The working conditions were abhorrent, with cruel treatment at the hands of overseers, long working hours, strenuous labor, and dangerous equipment. As noted by the authors, sugar was a killer. Ironically, sugar also contributed to freedom when Britain's taxes on sugar wound up serving as a spark in the revolt by the American colonists.
With its extremely thorough research and appealing visual display of photographs and images, this historical narrative provides an eye-opening account of the power behind sugar production in influencing human lives. Thoroughly entwined in the text are a host of economics lessons, especially related to slavery and agricultural production, that the authors have presented in a way that will engage with middle grade and young adult readers.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children