In days of olde

17th October 2003 at 01:00
Mary McCarney recommends series whichshow the nitty-gritty of life in the past

Key stage 2. The Tudors Reconstructed. The Victorians Reconstructed. The Home Front Reconstructed. By Liz Gogerly.

The Romans Reconstructed. The Saxons and Vikings Reconstructed. By Jason Hook.

Hodder Children's Books. pound;10.99 hb each.

People in the Past series. Tudor Jobs, Tudor Exploration, Tudor Children, Tudor Rich and Poor. By Haydn Middleton. Heinemann Library. pound;11.50 hb each.

Castles and Forts. By Simon Adams. Kingfisher pound;7.99 hb.

Hammily-acted TV documentaries have a lot to answer for. The term "reconstruction" is enough to give even the most hardened Crimewatch viewer nightmares, but key stage 2 teachers should be encouraged.

The new Reconstructed history series from Hodder Children's Books could mean sweet dreams instead. Following the curriculum requirement to show that the past can be represented in a variety of ways, teachers constantly strive to demonstrate how life really was in days of olde.

But within the confines of the average primary classroom, recreating Roman baths or reliving scenes from the Blitz has always been a little tricky, and any help with the reconstruction bit is greatly appreciated.

This series features specially reconstructed photographs which bring each topic vividly to life. From Saxon feasts to Victorian toilets, pupils are encouraged to study the photos in detail, with thumbnails highlighting the most important aspects of each scene. Of course, the ultimate reconstruction involves experiencing the sights and smells for real, so if you feel a school trip coming on, these books also recommend places to visit, such as the living museums where many of the photos were taken.

While reconstruction photographs are a useful classroom resource, they're not strictly true historical evidence. So when your class-genius smugly reminds you that "There were no photographers in Tudor times, Miss", the feast of primary sources in Heinemann's People in the Past series should be enough to keep him or her happy.

The four Tudor titles focus on a wealth of written and pictorial evidence. Pupils are encouraged to make their own interpretations and draw conclusions from paintings, parish registers, maps and documents. Readers of Tudor Jobs will enjoy the instructions on how to amputate a leg, taken from the Tudor Handbook for all Young Surgeons. Don't try that one at home.

Although not directly linked to the key stage 2 curriculum, Castles and Forts is a beautifully illustrated book for the class library. German fairy-tale towers, the Japanese wooden fortress of Himeji and other palaces, chateaux and citadels around the world are explored in great detail.

The foreword is by Neil Oliver and Tony Pollard from BBC's Two Men in a Trench, and the challenging vocabulary throughout makes this book most suitable for more able readers in upper KS2. There are useful summaries at the end of each chapter and a list of websites for further study.

Pupils who become hooked on castles will even find possible career suggestions, ranging from prop maker, sound engineer and conservation officer to the more predictable occupations of historian, architect or armourer.

It's interesting that although this book includes photos of battle re-enactments, it fails to mention career opportunities for reconstruction actors. On second thoughts, it's probably just as well it doesn't - that sort of advice might lead to a part on Crimewatch.

Mary McCarney teaches at St Joseph's Junior School, Luton

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