2nd June 2000 at 01:00
I HAVE A DREAM: The story of Martin Luther King. By Neil Tonge. SISTER ON THE STREET: The story of Mother Teresa By Sam Godwin. LITTLE HISTORIES:My Uncle was Sir Francis Drake, Remember, Remember the Fifth of November. By Rob Childs. Hodder amp; Stoughton. pound;8.50 each.

Finding time for extra literacy and the like has reduced time in primary schools for those subjects outside the core priorities of the government. There is a squeeze on history.

Squeezing history into the curriculum by the literacy route is one way of remedying the situation. Story books like these from Hodder amp; Stoughton could meet a real need, and they do - up to a point. That point is where history is compressed into the story in such an obvious and mechanistic way that the story ceases to have any real merit as a good read.

Not that these books are that bad. Neil Tonge is easily the best of the writers and his story of Martin Luther King flows well and covers the ground nicely. Pity about the illustations, which add little to the text - the faces, in particular, are poorly executed. Tony Morris's pictures for the Mother Teresa story are more appropriate, but the story is written in the first person, which adds a layer of difficulty that the reader could do without.

The squeeze is much more noticeable in the Little Histories series where, even though based on good historical yarns, they transfer to the ear in a less than smooth way. This is writing by numbers. Would a sailor in Drake's time really have uttered the phrase: "There's no way we can lose with captains like him"? One always knows that a writer is in difficulty when the excitement has to be generated artificially, by excessive exclamation. "Our ships are swifter!" "There's a storm brewing up!" Undoubtedly a good idea, and sturdily produced, these books still leave one with a longing for a wordsmith of Rosemary Sutcliff quality who will write historical stories of merit for younger children.

Paul Noble

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