The Great Fire of London: 350th Anniversary of the Great Fire of 1666 by Emma Adams and James Weston Lewis
|The Great Fire of London: 350th Anniversary of the Great Fire of 1666 by Emma Adams and James Weston Lewis|
|Category: Children's Non-Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A book perfect for the primary school library, on one of our capital's more extraordinary events.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 48||Date: May 2016|
|External links: Author's website|
Longlisted for the 2017 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal
While the average primary school child may not quite be able to fathom the importance and actual length of 350 years, it is no reason not to put a book out looking back that distance of time to major historical events. But it has to be a good book to justify the mental time travel that entails. And you have to hit on a remarkable subject, something that will open the young eyes to the danger, tragedy and drama of our history. Something like the Great Fire of London, as seen in this large hardback, which when it comes down to it, and for many reasons, is a very good book indeed.
The look of it all is great – the artwork isn't exactly photorealist, but the reduced palette (green doesn't get a look-in, leaving earthy and dramatic reds and yellows, and foreboding blues) gives the pages a perfectly distinctive look. But I can turn to the words and give even more praise. This book tells the young reader just what she or he needs to know about the inferno – where it started, why we think it began, how it spread, and what characters were chief to both it and to our understanding of it. Here's the King, worriedly passing diarist Samuel Pepys on to the Lord Mayor, who may not have been nearly as effective as needed. Here's a map showing the galling spread of it all.
And here's a lot of drama, to suit the events. While the book never burdens the reader with a lot of text, the narrative pulls back and just gives us a few worrying words per page as the fire closes in on warehouses full of oils and flammable alcohol. There's a pacing and drama here that is stronger than I thought to expect, and after it all a history of how London modernised its fire services, and rebuilt itself anew. But the pleasant arc of the story brings something new to any audience – I don't remember anything telling me that it had been a particularly hot and dry summer in 1666, nor that unusual winds fanned the flames west, against the prevailing direction.
The fact that I at my age am learning new things from these pages shows just how valuable this book will become. It might not have the rereadable quality a purchase for the home might demand, but the school librarian will be more than pleased with this on their shelves. It has the dynamic look allowing even the poorest teacher to capture their class, from the gold-embossed cover down, and presents the ideal material on the topic in the ideal way. It all makes for a suitable memorial to the event, and you'd probably have to wait til the 400th anniversary for a better book on this subject.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
L is for London by Paul Thurlby will take a young class round the current city.
The Great Fire of London: 350th Anniversary of the Great Fire of 1666 by Emma Adams and James Weston Lewis is in the Top Ten Children's Non-Fiction Books of 2016.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Great Fire of London: 350th Anniversary of the Great Fire of 1666 by Emma Adams and James Weston Lewis at Amazon.com.
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