Foundations to build on

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Mary McCarney on books that develop primary pupils' sense of the past

Great Building Feats series

The Panama Canal; The Colosseum; The Hoover Dam

By Leslie A DuTemple

The Channel Tunnel

By Sandy Donovan

Lerner pound;14.99 each

Building History series

Egyptian Pyramid

By Gillian Clements

Franklin Watts pound;11.99

Make Your Own Castle

By Clare Beaton

B Small Publishing pound;4.99

Shakespeare's World series

Daily Life

By Kathy Elgin

Cherrytree Books pound;11.99

Who WasI? series

Admiral Nelson

By Sam Llewellyn

Emily Davison

By Claudia Fitzherbert

Short Books pound;4.99 each

The Great Building Feats series reveals everything young readers could possibly want to know about some of the world's most famous structures.

From the ancient wonders of the Taj Mahal and the Colosseum, to 20th-century superstructures, such as the Hoover Dam and the Panama Canal, these books explore the engineering, geographical and technical challenges overcome by the designers and builders.

The original ideas and plans for each structure are explained in detail, with clearly labelled cross-section diagrams. And if you've ever wondered what to do with 24,000 tons of excavated seabed per hour, then The Channel Tunnel will reveal all.

But it is the human stories behind these remarkable engineering feats that give this series wider appeal - the grief which inspired Shah Jahan's monument to undying love (the Taj Mahal), the two construction workers chosen to make that historic Anglo-French handshake inside the Channel Tunnel, and the tragedies of lives lost, such as the father and son killed on the same date, 13 years apart, while building the Hoover Dam.

Although well illustrated, this series is quite wordy, making it most suitable for upper key stage 2 or 3 readers.

For lower KS2, Egyptian Pyramid, part of the Building History series, is an ideal step-by-step guide to why, how and where the pyramids were built.

Gorgeously colourful, this book paints a vivid picture of life in ancient Egypt.

If younger pupils are inspired to try a spot of building work themselves, Make your Own Castle provides some hands-on experience. Even very small hands will be able to construct this impressive table-top castle, complete with medieval figures and a range of fiendish weapons. The paperback cover forms the basis of the castle, with other bits and bobs to colour and cut.

This might all sound a bit creatively restricting, but even my Year 6 pupils enjoyed making something that looks this good, and came away with ideas for designing their own models. A fun book with good cross-curricular links.

Shakespeare's World: Daily Life (illustration right) explores Tudor history through the life and works of the Bard. Homes, clothing, entertainment, food, drink and travel are among the topics covered. Pupils may be amused to read that school was just as (un)popular in Tudor times as it is now, and there's even a quote from As You Like It to prove this. The language is lively and totally accessible, with quotes from Shakespeare clearly annotated throughout. A beautiful resource for KS23.

Short biographies of Nelson and Emily Davison are two new additions to the acclaimed Who Was? series of narrative non-fiction for nine to 12-year-olds. These stories are told with verve and gusto. Admiral Nelson includes anecdotes and speculation about the seasick naval hero who became an 18th-century celebrity, as well as a timeline of key dates and a glossary of nautical terms. Through the eyes of Emily Davison, the world of the suffragettes is revealed with fascinating insight to help young readers understand why the former governess sacrificed her life for the cause.

Powerful reading.

Mary McCarney is Year 6 teacher at StJoseph's Junior School, Luton

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