Information books

4th February 2000 at 00:00
USBORNE WORLD HISTORY SERIES. Ancient World. By Fiona Chandler. Medieval World. By Jane Bingham. Usborne pound;12.99 each. THE USBORNE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ANCIENT GREECE. By Jane Chisholm, Lisa Miles and Struan Reid. Usborne pound;14.99.

Usborne World History books swamp the reader with colourful images sharply defined against glossy white pages to the point where the text is virtually irrelevant, which may be a good thing because reading it requires some effort.

It is not just that the wrap-round text and the two and three-word lines hinder the acquisition of meaning - but the speed of the thing. Blink and you could miss it.

I was reading about the craftworkers of Teotihuacan when, whoosh, I was suddenly with the Maya. I felt as if I was racing through Didcot on a 125 trying to read the station name at 100mph.

I knew it was about the Aztecs (because of the pyramids) but where were they? The word Aztecs was nowhere to be found, noteven in the index. Perhaps the Maya and the Aztecs had been conflated or just plain muddled, but before I could find out, I was on to the Celts. This is history for fast-travelling tourists.

Medieval World takes a slightly more leisurely pace (fewer years to cover of course) with fact-and-certainty-packed sentences as befits this encyclopedia style of writing. Ancient World might be more useful to primary children because it covers key stage two history topics, but both books will grab children's attention.

The Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece is much more adventurous and uses many large illustrations and photographs. Nevertheless, beauty occasionally obstructs meaning, a matter that you will more clearly comprehend if you try to read the entry on Greek philosophy printed against a background of clouds and blue sky. An eye-catching book, though.

Paul Noble is head of St Andrew's primary school, Blunsdon, Wiltshire

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