Why we are not amused

13th November 1998 at 00:00
SPOTLIGHT ON THE VICTORIANS. By Sandy Brownjohn. Pupil's Book Pounds 6. 99 Teacher's Resource Book Pounds 19.99. Hodder amp; Stoughton

Place the spotlight on Victoria's favourite Victorian and he will shimmer and sparkle in his new coat of gold leaf.

In contrast these two Spotlight books struggle to sparkle in unexciting black and white only. But black, white or gold, we do not seem to be able to get enough of the Victorians, a fact that must surely, even beyond the grave, cause the lips of the great unamused queen to quiver just a little.

This package is full of contemporary quotations and is particularly strong on extracts from poetry and literature. These range from an acrostic ode to Prince Albert - a tedious piece which I am sure that children might enjoy trying to better - to a satirical extract from Trollope. Gilbert and Sullivan get a mention as do Jack the Ripper (an interesting choice) and Oscar Wilde. There are also thought-provoking spreads on the "ideal wife" and the "ideal husband" with quotations from Trollope.

In spite of much fascinating material the books do not really hit the primary school target. The page designer has made a mess of the pupil's book and the text, which is fairly demanding, is insufficiently pepped up with illustrations to attract younger readers. The books clearly fit better with the upper end of the indicated age range of nine to 14.

At the back of the Resource Book is a lightly annotated but splendid chapter of useful information. It contains suggestions for places to visit, arranged according to the Victorian authors associated with them, and a unique and lengthy film and video list.

Although the history is sometimes a bit shaky, the strength of the teaching ideas will guarantee these books a place on the history resource shelves, but I would have preferred it if the publisher had given Sandy Brownjohn's work better treatment.

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

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