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Mission improbable

OXFORD CHILDREN'S HISTORY OF THE WORLD. By Neil Grant. (Oxford University Press pound;14.99)

Chris Culpin looks at two very different resources for teaching history.

The author's brief for this book must have looked impossible: a complete history of the world, for children aged eight to 13, in about 170 pages. Neil Grant and his consultants are to be congratulated on the degree to which they have succeeded.

The coverage is genuinely world-wide, with sections on cultures and civilisations from all five continents. Where global themes, such as industrialisation or human rights are dealt with, the treatment crosses national histories most impressively. It is genuinely complete in its timespan, too, starting with Australopithecus and ending with the NATO action in Kosovo in 1999.

Each topic consists of an accessible text, with full colour illustrations which are given enough space to tell the story. Colour panels of important incidents or people keep the reader interested. Maps and date lists pin the narrative down. The book is divded into five chronological periods and each ends with a timeline and a who's who.

It is on the big, familiar topics that the book falls short: key stage 2 pupils will want to see more than four pages on the Greeks, or two on the Egyptians.

Some treatment is over-ambitious: share-dealing and the Wall Street Crash, fascism and socialism, for example. The illustrators' artwork raises some questions too. On topics with few real contemporary sources, good artwork is justified and the dramatic nature of some of the illustrations will seize readers' interest. But it seems strange to use illustrators when excellent photos exist, as with evacuation, or women munitions workers in the First World War.

A book like this is usually seen as a provider of answers to specific queries. But young readers often browse reference books with no specific aim, ready to be interested or to fill in some of the vast unknown world out there. Both types of reader will enjoy this book.

Chris Culpin is director of the Schools History Project

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