Ancient World orders;Cross-phase;History;Reviews;Books

5th June 1998 at 01:00
AT A GLANCE SERIES: Ancient Greece. By Rupert Matthews. Ancient Romans. By Sarah McNeill. Macdonald Young Books. pound;8.99 each.

REMAINS TO BE SEEN SERIES: Exploring Ancient Egypt. By John Malam. Evans. pound;9.99

THE ANCIENT WORLD SERIES. Rome. By Sean Sheelan and Pat Levy. The Aztecs. By Robert Hull. Egypt. By Jane Shuter. Greece. By Robert Hull. Wayland. pound;10.99 each.

Catherine Morland, the heroine of Northanger Abbey, preferred cricket to books "or at least to information books". However, she may have liked the At a Glance series, in which she could pore over the tiny, minutely detailed coloured drawings which support the text; types of toga, gods, picture strips showing the making of papyrus or of bridges.

She would surely have been impressed by the Remains To Be Seen series with its large pages of well-produced photographs of artefacts, paintings and the remains of ancient settlements. Her imagination may have been fired by the illustration of mummification, for she liked history if it was "truly horrible". She may have mused romantically about the ebb and flow of time as sand covered, then uncovered the tomb workers' village of Deir el Medina. There is a sense of change over time both within a civilisation and beyond as the book moves from a photograph of a prehistoric pit burial, through powerful dynasties of Pharaohs, to a final picture of the Roman theatre in Alexandria, against a back-ground of the modern city.

But probably her favourite series would be the Ancient World. Each book is written by an experienced teacher or children's author in collaboration with an academic specialising in the field. Splendid photographs juxtapose the ancient and the contemporary. Some photographs invite contrasts; the vast sacrificial brazier of the Temple of Tenochtitlan makes modern Mexico City look flimsy. Some are reminders of continuity; a young woman weaving cloth the Aztec way and modern ceremonies which echo old customs.

Artefacts selected are thought-provoking; a votive offering of a model leg super-imposed on a photograph of the Delphic oracle.

These are all sound, well-produced history information books, but they do not demonstrate the innovative approaches that were evident in this year's TES Junior Information Book submissions.

There are no formats for bridging the gap between the narrative form, with which children are familiar, andleading them gradually towards the use of reference books. There are no children with whom to identify, there is no encouragement to interact with the text, for example, by gathering information for specified purposes. The Catherine Morland of today may crave even more stimulation, pop-ups or pull outs or even CD-Roms, perhaps to disengage her from the costume dramas on television.

* Hilary Cooper lectures in history and education at the University College of St Martin, Lancaster

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