Adventures through history

17th November 2000 at 00:00
GOOD TIMES TRAVEL AGENCY. Adventures in Ancient Egypt. Adventures in The Middle Ages. By Linda Bailey. Illustrated by Bill Slavin. Aamp;C Black. pound;9.99. each

Plenty of comic histories exist for children at key stage 2. Many of them, however popular, are cheap and undignified. They often rely on vulgar superiority, assuming that the Spartans at Thermopylae can't have anything serious to teach our enlightened and prudent times. These books from Canada are honourably different.

The warm and gentle humour is evident in the narrative and the large, entertaining illustrations.

The stories involve Emma, Josh and their nosy little sister Libby, who are transported headlong into a strange era and even stranger culture. They have to finish the guidebook that accompanies them before they can return to the safety of contemporary streets.

Before that, they are accused of grave-robbing; besieged in a cstle; subjected to back-breaking labour; beset by fleas and lice; bedded down in mud and forced to eat peasant food. They maintain their spirits through their openness to experience, which keeps them reading the guide.

Extracts printed along the bottom of the pages are full of helpful advice for the time-traveller: "Take one dead body, preferably a king" or "Don't bother looking for the bathroom". By following the guidebooks' advice, the children see temples and schools, pyramids and fairgrounds, dancing girls and knights in armour.

Although they want to get home, and are frightened or disgusted by what they see, they are also intrigued.

Their resourcefulness is similar to that of ENesbit's characters in similar vicissitudes. They could easily feature in an extended series of adventures and would provide young readers with prosaic facts that amuse and sprightly cartoons that inform.

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