Feast of life with death at the table
Something of the feel of this brutal, glittering, vertiginous era with its flawed prodigal autocrats comes across in this set of books and pictures; something, but not quite enough. Perhaps that's because it is so carefully and conscientiously shaped to meet the needs of the key stage 2 study unit.
The pupils' booklet is a workmanlike set of spreads covering such topics as war, homes, exploration and the arts. The chronology is rather wayward, apart from a very basic time-line at the start; Elizabeth's life is told 17 pages before the Reformation. That upheaval is given a brief outline, but little emerges of the savagery of persecution or the prime importance of religion itself.
Some classroom activities - ascribing the Armada victory either to God or English seamanship, for example - seem very taxing for junior children. There are some nice quotations, but an opportunity is lost with the otherwise lively biography of Raleigh. His "The Lie" ("Say to the Court it glowesand shines like rotten wood") might well have been cited here.
These disappointing defects are, in the main, amended in the teacher's guide. It adds much-needed background to some of the simpler statements in the pupils' book. In doing this, it also gives some commonsensical but valuable advice on planning a history assignment.
It's good to see a list, however brief, of appropriate fiction, though I miss Trease's still-readable Cue for Treason. And it would have been valuable to have dances mentioned in the music section.
The resource pack, though not cheap, adds a lot more. It goes a long way towards fulfilling its stated aims of providing tangible evidence and capturing the imagination. Here are clear, colour A4 pictures of people, buildings, farmyards and events.
Here, too, are dozens of ideas for interrogating portraits, devising menus, performing street-cries, making board-games, drawing cartoons, impersonating gentlemen and interviewing historians.
Here, especially, is a large poster reproduction of the portrait of Sir Henry Unton. In its bizarre blending of narrative, emblem, confession and propaganda we get a real feel of that strange time that saw the feast of life set out in abundance with Death as perpetual guest.