Farce and fiction

20th April 2001 at 01:00
THE NILE FILES. The Missing Mummy. The Scrunchy Scarab. By Phillip Wooderson. AT THE COURT OF QUEEN ELIZABETH. Earl Inkblot's Big Night. By Karen Wallace. THE BIG HOUSE. The Strike. By George Buchanan. HOMEFRONT. Digging for Victory. Put That Light Out. By Jack Wood. Franklin Watts pound;7.99 each.

rapping history in fiction is a subtle matter. Lively familiarity with past generations needn't mean disrespect, trivial jokes or cheap superiority.

The Nile Files series features Ptoni and his dad, a trader in Ancient Egypt. Lesser characters, such as fat tax collectors, merchants and dancing girls are passably convincing, though the mummy-makers' names (Rappumup and Sukumout) are farcical. There are some factual explanations - mummification in gruesome detail, baking and brewing - but the complex plot involves events in which the history is incidental and often undignified.

A footnote to Earl Inkblot's Big Night claims it's "based on real historical facts". In fact, it's a silly confection, in which a play by an unknown writer wows the audience at the Globe. The theatre is described with ludicrous inaccuracy, the actors replaced by courtiers, the performance taking place at night and Queen Elizabeth shouting anachronistic banter from the balcony, more like the queen from Blackadder than anyone from tre memoirs or chronicles. This degrading and misleading nonsense should be avoided.

The Big House series is set in the high Victorian era of 1859, intermingling several social classes in an upstairs-downstairs world. The Strike presents a potential conflict of loyalties to young Vincent. He's a trusted servant at Dalcombe Manor, but his father leads the local strike committee, fighting for a nine-hour day, and the company manager is his master's bullying son. The background of poverty, pawnbrokers and the new hobby of photography is pleasantly sketched in. The resolution of the strife owes more to accident and paternalist benevolence than to trade unionism, but this doesn't spoil a mildly informative story.

In the Home Front series we meet the Pitt family, making the best of life in Balaclava Terrace as the Second World War drags its weary and dangerous course. Air raids are part of the pattern, together with blackouts, incendiaries, stirrup pumps, bossy wardens and the discomforts of Anderson shelters. The days are punctuated by the hazards of spam and rationing.

The adventures focus on domestic solidarity and how to muddle through, using patience and a pinch of cunning. Readers at key stage 2 will gain a sense of how their great-grandparents' tolerant virtues helped make history.

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