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Towers of power

THE AGE OF CASTLES SERIES. How Castles Were Built. By Peter Hicks. CASTLE LIFE. By Struan Reid. Wayland, Pounds 9.99 each.

SCOTTISH CASTLES THROUGH HISTORY. By Richard Dargie. Wayland. Pounds 10. 99. Tel: 01273 722561.

Raise the drawbridge! Fill the moat! I would not want the Literacy Hour mechanics to get their hands on these three splendid volumes. They are excellent examples of the kind of information books that should be savoured rather than dissected - loved rather than analysed.

The series is well-written. The text is interesting, involving and literate. Words are used to construct strong useful images (a castle is compared to a bank and business centre, for example) which are more than matched by the selection of photographs, contemporary illustrations and artwork. The image of the smiling gongfermor (latrine orderly) armed with bucket and surrounded by flies, and the photographs of Neuschwanstein and Chirkcastles linger in the mind. They are unusual and striking.

The books are elegantly designed, with each page a delightful model of clarity. Minor irritants - use of the present tense to launch each section,and the covers, which undersell the quality interiors - do little to detract from the books' appeal.

Scottish Castles through History, in which BBC Education Scotland had a hand, also exudes quality. Several factors - text size, sentence length, directness of style - make the book more accessible to the average junior reader of eight or over than The Age of Castles series. The layout is less delicate but equally striking. Indeed, the book contains some stunning illustrations.

I must confess I have never seen Fort George, Inverness, the largest artillery fort in Europe, or the simple but sturdy Hermitage castle in Liddesdale, but this book makes me want to.

* Paul Noble

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