Children at the heart of history;Reviews;Books

24th September 1999 at 01:00
HISTORICAL STORYBOOKS: The Hunt for William Shakespeare. By Roy Apps. A Sword for Joan of Arc. By Sam Godwin. Harry's Battle of Britain. By Andrew Donkin. Robin Hood and the Silver Arrow. By James Riordan, Macdonald pound;8.50 each. Coming Alive series. Sink the Armada! By Stewart Ross. The Finest Pharaoh of All. By Stewart Ross. Evans pound;7.99 each.

Dennis Hamley on exciting tales of youthful derring-do Stories with children at their centre that are set around historical events have taken on a new life in recent years. At their best they bring alive topics in history for juniors and add to the stock of narratives for English.

Macdonald's Historical Storybooks are beautifully illustrated and produced. In Roy Apps's The Hunt for William Shakespeare, stage-struck Benjamin Tozer runs away to London, is lured into the Chapel Royal with its slave-boy actors, escapes, meets Shakespeare and helps dismantle the old Theatre and rebuild it as the Globe. Sam Godwin's A Sword for Joan of Arc takes Joan's story to her departure with sword and armour to see the Dauphin. Andrew Donkin's Harry's Battle of Britain is more "Harry" than "Battle". Evacuee Harry settles in and fights the locals before their narrow escape from an aerial dogfight. James Riordan's Robin Hood and the Silver Arrow (pictured left, artwork by Tony Morris) is told by Much the Miller's son and concerns the Sheriff's famous archery contest.

Stewart Ross's books in the Coming Alive series are nearly full-blown novellas. In Sink the Armada!, young Tom Barnecut joins Drake (portrayed warts and all) on the Revenge, watches the Spanish Armada flee, and decides battle is not for him. The Spanish are drawn sympathetically too, however. The Finest Pharaoh of All is about Hatshepshut, the woman who was king, and is a fascinating read. Sue Shields' formal Egyptian drawings stand out.

Every story here gives narrative pleasure as well as an insight into each historical period.

Dennis Hamley is former English adviser for Hertfordshire and a children's author

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