Rattling yarns

31st January 2003 at 00:00
WRITE INTO HISTORY SERIES: Victorians Chimney Child. By Laurie Sheehan, illustrated by Gillian Marklew.

Tom's Jubilee. By Richard Brown, illustrated by William Webb. The Mansion and the Mill. By Jennifer Burnap, illustrated by Edward Blake. pound;4.50 each.

Flipover Book and Teacher's Book. By Richard Brown. pound;39.50. Anglia Young Books. CROSSLINKS SERIES. Crocodiles, Pyramids and Kings - Herodotus in Egypt. By Grant Bage. pound;4.50 pupil book. pound;24.50 teacher's notes. Anglia Young Books. www.millpublishing.com

Trouble at t' mill! (and in Victorian society generally) is here presented in lively texts for key stage 2. This period is a rich area of study for today's children, many of whom can trace their own ancestry back into the 19th century without too much trouble. These three previously published volumes are now harnessed to ideas from the national Grammar for Writing programme, enabling children to learn about text and sentence level work in the context of rattling historical stories.

The "two nations" theme, which runs throughout these books, is necessarily simplified, but the important historical issues remain clear. Child labour, education and the stark divide between the haves and have-nots are all captured here in differentiated texts. Historical detail is strong and achieved unobtrusively: what did workers eat? Here is Polly preparing scrag end of mutton and potatoes (The Mansion and the Mill) and then visiting the mill-owner's house where the kitchen is a culinary cornucopia. What was school like? Reading, writing, arithmetic and Scripture - and a penny a week for the privilege (Tom's Jubilee).

The activities in the flipover book, complemented by detailed plans in the teacher's book, include such tasks as writing a book blurb, altering tenses, and identifying and creating simple, complex and compound sentences. The historical content is actually strengthened by detailed focus on the text.

The stories were well received when read aloud to Year 5 children, while the presence of strong male and female characters, thoughtfully illustrated in line drawings, ensures that empathy is to the fore. The class enjoyed contrasting their own lives with those of their counterparts in the late 19th century, and while the grimness of life at that time is vividly captured, the books also show the progress that took place.

The Crosslinks series seeks to inspire upper KS2 children and assist teachers by linking literacy, thinking skills and history. The narrative of Greek historian Herodotus is rewritten for pupils in boy-friendly, conversational style (good for reading aloud) and comprises several "tales", ranging from interesting advice on catching crocodiles, to the morally improving but dull story of King Croesus. Pyramids, despite the promise of the title, barely feature except in the teacher's book. This includes additional texts and detailed planning in the three areas of study.

This material will be of most interest to more able children in Years 5 and 6.

Kevin Harcombe is headteacher of Redlands Primary School, Fareham

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