Across the boundaries

27th June 2003 at 01:00
Geography and world history work together in a series about exploration, reviewed by Penelope Harnett

Exploring History series. India By Anita Ganeri

China By Wang Tao

The Polar Regions By David Rootes

Japan By Richard Tames

Latin America Ana Maria Machado

Australia By Kate Darian-Smith

Africa By Isimeme Ibazebo

North America By Bill Askinach and Kate Scarborough

Beltha PressRoyal Geographical Society pound;12.99 each

Good Times Travel Agency Adventures in Ancient Greece By Linda Bailey and Bill Slavin A amp; C Black pound;5.99

The aim of the attractive books in the Exploring History series is to describe the history of the chosen regions before and after their exploration by Europeans, for upper primary and lower secondary children.

Each book is written by an expert in the selected region and is lavishly illustrated with pictures, photographs and maps. The books provide clear examples of the interaction between humans and their physical environments.

The series has set itself a demanding task in seeking to provide information ranging from pre-history to the present, and careful thought has gone into the selection of appropriate material.

Timelines at the back of each book provide chronological reference points between the relevant region and events occurring in Europe. The books provide broad overviews of key events and in-depth consideration of particular issues through the skilful use of diagrams and information boxes. While children might find descriptions of political events a little dry at times, they will be fascinated by the wealth of social and cultural history which these books contain. Explosive arrows fired from crossbows in 10th century China, the fascinating desert drawings of the Nazca peoples in Peru and descriptions of the immense wealth of the Indian rulers provide a glimpse of the range of features covered.

The books describe the contribution of different regions to global knowledge and provide many examples of ways in which countries were and continue to be interdependent. Explorers are not thwarted by national boundaries - some characters turn up in several books. For example, the 14th-century Arab explorer Ibn Battuta's travels are recorded in three books: Africa, India and China.

The arrival of Europeans in these different regions was not always welcome.

The books present the views of the indigenous peoples on the visitors and there is a sense of intrusion on settled cultures and ways of life. The Europeans were rarely peaceful visitors. The Savage Invasion and The Fight for Land are two of the chapters in North America and White People Invade is a chapter in Australia. Readers are left to ask: who benefited from European exploration? Exploring History represents a serious attempt to understand earlier cultures and location.

This is not so much in evidence in Adventures in Ancient Greece, which follows the usual format of The Good Times Travel Agency series.Travelling back in time to the Olympic Games, present-day children learn about Ancient Greek ways of life and draw comparisons with their own experiences. Other books in the series visit Ancient Egypt, The Middle Ages and The Vikings.

The blend of fact and fiction and zany humour will appeal to some children and encourage their interest in this period of history.

Penelope Harnett is principal lecturer in primary education at the University of the West of England, Bristol , and editor of Primary History, published by the Historical Association

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