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13th February 1998 at 00:00
King Kong stands on top of the Empire State Building, gripping the dome with his feet. Aeroplanes buzz all around him, firing and swerving away. The year is 1933. The Empire State Building, tallest building in the world, is just two years old."

An opening paragraph to make any child want to read on. The subject of each of these books is introduced in a similar (but factual) appetite-whetting, scene-setting way.

Besides considering the architecture and construction of each building, chapters provide outlines of the historical, architectural and social contexts in which they were built and their subsequent histories. So, in The Houses of Parliament, for example, we are provided with a brief history of Parliament, of the old Palace of Westminster, and of the relationships between kings and Parliament in the 17th century. We also learn a little about the Industrial Revolution, Gothic architecture, and the Chartist and suffragette movements.

Illustrations include a lavish use of photographs, artwork, plans and maps. Each book also has an illustration depicting a scene during the building's construction, with a numbered key highlighting various aspects.

Each book concludes with a timeline, a list of sources of further information and a glossary.

The publisher claims that the books are suitable for eight to 13-year-olds, but they vary enormously in reading level and accessibility, from the short pithy sentences of The Empire State Building to the more sophisticated style of The Taj Mahal.

Paul Harrison is a former primary school headteacher

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