Not fiction but fascinating

6th June 2003 at 01:00

Leaders of World War 1 By Sean Sheehan

Technology of World War II By Stewart Ross pound;12.99 each Hodder Wayland


Black Peoples of America By Ann Kramer

Cavaliers and Roundheads By Ann Kramer

Cold War By Simon Adams

French Revolution By Adrian Gilbert Franklin Watts pound;11.99 each


United Nations By Stewart Ross

The Causes of World War II

By Paul Dowswell pound;11.50 each Heinemann


Assassination in Sarajevo By Alex Woolf

Pearl Harbour By Paul Dowswell

The Chernobyl Disaster By Paul Dowswell

The Dream of Martin Luther King By Liz Gogerly

The Kennedy Assassination By Liz Gogerly

The Moon Landing By Paul Mason

Hiroshima By Jason Hook

D-Day By Sean Sheehan

The Fall of the Berlin Wall By Patricia Levy

The Wall Street Crash By Alex Woolf pound;11.99 (hardback),pound;6.99 (paperback) each Hodder Wayland


Mao Zedong By Anne Faulkner

Sigmund Freud By Liz Gogerly

Nelson Mandela By Ann Kramer

Winston Churchill By Simon Adams pound;12.99 each Franklin Watts

Russel Tarr updates on additions to several book series

It is easy for teachers and students alike to depend too much on a good textbook. With ready-made questions, lesson plans and activities, such titles seem to offer the best of all worlds. Nevertheless, for in-depth research or for background detail they can be rather sterile and self-consciously edifying, and in this respect the well-written children's non-fiction book comes into its own. These are some recent additions to history series.

The Weblinks series is a great example of how good authors can adapt to the changing reading habits of younger readers. Each book covers a different topic - for example, The Technology of World War II and Leaders of World War I. It is not necessary to own a computer to use any of these books; however, for readers who do have access to the internet, there are links to the appropriate pages of the site, which is regularly updated. The recommended links lean at present a little too heavily towards internet sites which merely provide more textual information rather than interactive exercises, but the books themselves are well written and packed with useful information, photographs, posters, paintings, cartoons and maps.

While the History Topics series does not focus as heavily on the potential of the internet, the books are a useful one-stop-shop for key information on important historical eras and events. Each of the four books in the series is based around key questions: How hard was life for people in medieval times? Why did the French Revolution happen? Why did it take so long for women to get the vote? What was the Cold War? The layout of the books is lively and engaging, with bright colour schemes designed to appeal to a younger market. In addition, each double-page spread is a self-contained unit dealing with a key theme and contains a timeline, a biographical outline of a key character and an important quote from the time as well as narrative information and illustrations. This is a great overview series, which could easily be adapted for use in the classroom: pairs of students could each research a different theme covered in the book and report back to the class with their findings.

The 20th Century Perspectives series is more conservative in tone, but better suited for more able KS4 students. United Nations and The Causes of World War II join a series which includes The Changing Role of Women, The Russian Revolution and The Causes of World War I, all of which are directly relevant to QCA schemes of work. An enquiring approach is encouraged by framing each chapter around a key question - for example, United Nations covers such things as "What was the League of Nations?", "Where is the International Court of Human Rights?" and "What is the Security Council?".

Primary sources - media reports, personal stories, diaries, letters and quotes from men, women and children involved - are also drawn on to shed light on the issues raised, and each page includes photos, maps and fact summaries.

As the blurb on the covers of the Days that Shook the World series says:

"Sometimes history takes place over long periods of time; sometimes it can occur in a single day. The high-drama series focuses on a key event in the last century when great and terrible things transpired within 24 hours, which would leave an impact on the history of the world for decades afterwards." The 10 books on offer include such events as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, Martin Luther King's expression of his political "Dream" in 1963 and the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The level of vocabulary is most suited for KS4 students, although key terminology is helpfully defined in separate boxes. Real life accounts are included in moment-in-time boxes, acting as a freeze-frame of people's thoughts, emotions and experiences.

Twentieth Century History Makers follow a refreshingly old-fashioned approach to history, focusing on the lives and achievements of key individuals rather than big themes. Comprehensive yet accessible, there are now 12 biographies in the series, aimed at introducing children in the KS34 age range to the most important historical figures of the 20th century. Through lively, straightforward text and swathes of photographs, readers can find out about the events of the subjects' lives and how they impacted - for both good and evil - on the world at large. Each will engage and stimulate students' enquiring minds, entertain the more reluctant reader, and generally encourage a positive response to discovering the world around us.

Also covering such central figures as Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi, this series will be devoured by keen young students eager to broaden their knowledge and understanding.

Russel Tarr teaches history and politics at Wolverhampton Grammar School and is author of

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