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Children's Nonfiction Central & South America

Ballplayers and Bonesetters

One Hundred Ancient Aztec and Maya Jobs You Might Have Adored or Abhorred

illustrated by Martha Newbigging

by (author) Laurie Coulter

Annick Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2008
Central & South America, Caribbean & Latin America, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2008
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2008
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Out of print

This edition is not currently available in bookstores. Check your local library or search for used copies at Abebooks.

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
  • Reading age: 9 to 12


Imagine growing up in Mesoamerica before the Spanish Conquest (1350 – 1521). What does your future hold? The ancient Aztecs, Maya and other Mesoamericans believed that the gods created a world where everyone had a role to play. Some people were born to rule, others to serve. If you were lucky, you might have been a high priest or a queen. On the other hand, you could have ended up as a latrine boatman or a slave destined to become a sacrificial victim.

Find out what it was like to be a tax collector (don’t try to keep any money for yourself; the penalty is death!) or a porter (only if you enjoy carrying heavy packs up mountains). Or perhaps you’d prefer building pyramids, raising dogs or being a royal cook (frog casserole with green chile, anyone?). Other jobs you might have held include: • Counterfeiter • Bell maker • Mosaic mask maker • Beekeeper.

Featuring a fact-filled introduction, a timeline and humorous illustrations, this book offers a unique view of one of the most remarkable civilizations of all time. 

About the authors

MARTHA NEWBIGGING has illustrated for numerous magazines including TreeHouse Family, Canadian Business, Toronto Life, TV Guide, and Destinations. Her illustrations have also been featured on a line of t-shirts for the famous Canadian casual clothing retailer Marci Lipman. She lives in Toronto.

Martha Newbigging's profile page

Laurie Coulter is a children's book author who specializes in historical nonfiction. She lives with her husband in Toronto. You can learn more about her at

Laurie Coulter's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“This kid-friendly narrative will entice with its humor and unexpected trivia.”

Foreword Reviews, 01/09

“Readable . . . humorous . . . lively . . . the descriptions of the vocations yield a rich view of the culture, and the breezy text makes this as much a browsing as a reference title . . . a solid purchase for elementary school and public libraries.”

School Library Journal, 12/08

“A distinctive look . . . that adds much information in a witty and charming cartoon style.”

Canadian Children’s Book News, 10/08

“Entirely engaging, and Martha Newbigging’s detailed cartoons shine just as bright as Laurie Coulter’s spunky, humorous tone. Highly recommended.”

CM Reviews, 02/09

“This book rates very big in ‘COOL’ness factor!”

Resource Links, 12/08

“This book describes in often humorous detail (accompanied by equally humorous illustrations) the work that both the elites and commoners performed. The jobs run the gamut from judge to latrine boatman, from salt maker to adobe brick maker, from Great King to slave.” 

The Globe and Mail, 09/08

Librarian Reviews

Ballplayers and Bonesetters: One Hundred Ancient Aztec and Maya Jobs You Might Have Adored or Abhorred

Aztecs – Mayas – Indians of Central America I learned a lot of new things about the Aztecs and Mayans while reading Ballplayers and Bonesetters, the latest in Annick’s series that looks at the life and culture of past times through people’s jobs (Archers and Alchemists for the middle ages, and Cowboys and Coffin Makers for the nineteenth century). Mesoamerican society before the Spanish conquest was complex and very civilized. Society was extremely hierarchical with two classes – the nobles and the commoners – and you didn’t have much choice in jobs since you did pretty much what you were born to do. But there was definitely a wide variety of jobs across both Aztec and Mayan lands, some of which will be familiar to kids today (cook, farmer, barber). Then there are the jobs that tell us much about the unique nature of this culture – bug farmers who raise an insect called the cochineal which is used for dye, the volador who is sort of a primitive ritualistic bungee jumper and, finally, the deity impersonator, that lucky fellow who impersonates the great Aztec lord and is then sacrificed on the high alter.

Author Laurie Coulter (who also wrote Cowboys and Coffin Makers) writes in a light and lively style that is informative and entertaining. Illustrator Martha Newbigging has created a distinctive look for this series that adds much information in a witty and charming cartoon style. In addition to the hundred jobs listed here, the author presents a good overview of the history of the region and the worldview of its people. There is also a helpful timeline, a brief bibliography that includes folktales and a detailed index. It will be a useful and appealing book for anyone interested in the early culture of Mesoamerica.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Fall 2008. Vol.31 No.4.

Ballplayers and Bonesetters: One Hundred Ancient Aztec and Maya Jobs You Might Have Adored or Abhorred

What would your job have been if you had lived in the time of the Aztecs, Maya and other Mesoamericans? Take your pick of 100 brainy, brawny or boring jobs performed by the ancient people of southern Mexico and northern Central America. Includes artwork, further reading list and index.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2009.

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