Dummies, mud pies and history

SCHOTT'S ALMANAC 2006. By Ben Schott. Bloomsbury pound;15

CHILDREN'S MISCELLANY Volume 2: more useless information that's essential to know. By Matthew Morgan and Samantha Barnes. Buster Books pound;7.99

Huw Thomas finds ideas for a year of assemblies- and then some

Someone near you will get the new Schott's Almanac for Christmas: I've already had good use out of mine in the closing weeks of term, most recently in an assembly guessing game based on Ben Schott's list of the 10 dummies added to Madame Tussaud's during 2005.

Schott's trick is to juxtapose information you would expect to be listed in a yearbook, such as the year's historical events or sporting information, with collations of facts you've probably never seen drawn together.

It's his lists of the statistically most idle countries or the days that have witnessed the greatest volume of text messaging that make this new volume utterly compelling.

This snapshot of the moment gathers the historic news stories of the past year with rigorous detail alongside more transient phenomena, such as the number of wristbands issued for various causes or the winners and key quotes from various reality television shows. There's also a list of words that joined our vocabulary in 2005, including "affluenza" and "chugger".

The almanac is a broad gathering of facts about countries, sports, planets, with a section on science and technology that will bring teaching in these subjects right up to date. There's raw material for original teaching resources in its anatomy of postcodes and superlatives applied to the world's remarkable features (the highest city, the smallest country and largest glacier). The list of the 33 things to do before you're 10, as surveyed by a washing powder company, includes "roll down a grassy bank"

and "make a mud pie". There's another lesson to be had in asking our 10-year-olds to write their own lists.

The almanac's calendar records significant dates, religious festivals and seasonal oddities, and will enrich the coming months with sayings about the weather for each one.

The Children's Miscellany, resembling Schott's work but aimed at key stages 2 and 3, also combines the facts you might expect, such as common abbreviations and mythological characters, with more unusual entries, such as the analysis of handwriting or instructions on flying a helicopter.

The fun sections on Shakespearean insults and the science of snot shift between the sublime and the ridiculous. There's more than enough in these volumes to keep us occupied until next year's edition of Schott.

Huw Thomas is head of St John's CE primary school, Sheffield


Fact addict: find out how many charity wristbands were issued this year

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