Ancient Egypt in 30 Seconds: 30 Awesome Topics for Pharaoh Fanatics Explained in Half a Minute (Children's 30 Second) by Cath Senker and Melvyn Evans
|Ancient Egypt in 30 Seconds: 30 Awesome Topics for Pharaoh Fanatics Explained in Half a Minute (Children's 30 Second) by Cath Senker and Melvyn Evans
|Category: Children's Non-Fiction
|Reviewer: John Lloyd
|Summary: Another entrant into the category of Egypt-based non-fiction young readers. Although this is fine, its format doesn't quite manage to distinguish it.
|Date: April 2015
|Publisher: Ivy Press
|External links: Author's website
Egypt. It's up there with dinosaurs, space travel and not much else that can hold a young child throughout the length of their school career. Considering a lot of them will grow up declaring they have no interest in, or even a hatred for, history, it all was relevant a long, long time ago – and with Carter's finding of King Tut's tomb closing in on its centenary it won't go away yet. There are indeed books that solely concern themselves with the history of our love affair with Egypt. But I guess it does boil down to it being introduced by a fine teacher. Whether this latest book will supplant the human in giving us all the lessons we need remains to be seen.
There are certainly a lot of lessons in this book, although of course they're never called that. Split into six chapters, concerning society, leisure, warfare, religion and the dead, etc, the lessons appear as double-page spreads that, bar the one regarding mummification, are self-contained and are supposed to tell us all we need to know – and in thirty seconds, no less. Don't ask, for I didn't time anything. What it does mean however is that the left-hand page is mostly text – three to five brisk paragraphs of information, with a silly three-second summary, and a box-out with either further data or an activity (make your own boat from drinking straws, devise your wish-list for the afterlife, that sort of thing). The right hand side then is down to Melvyn Evans' illustrations, which of course enliven the design, but which bear captions that at times so closely mimic (sorry, reinforce) what we've just read or, in some cases – such as the sleeping on house roofs in the heat – provide the totally new. Annoyingly, at times, it's impossible to judge the order in which those captions should be read.
This format does have the habit of being too rigid, and like I say it's a little spurious when some of it is a bit too silly (those summaries, again) and the rules are flexible enough to be broken. But I think the young reader will be able to see beyond the format, and absorb all the more relevant information. And, happily, this book does what I suggest all non-fiction books, for any target audience, should seek to do – give the adult reader something they didn't know. I didn't know or realise the Egyptians would have no concept of the weekend. I didn't know mummies would have had their finger- and toe-nails tied on, in case of damaging activity in the underworld.
The illustrations are pretty good, even if they fit in a weird middle ground between classical Egyptian decoration, and more modern styles. They have blocky patches of colour, however, to almost look like felt collages at times, but they do help now and again, and successfully get round the common nudity featured in Egyptian life. Those, then, and certainly the text, are very suitable for the primary school audience – although I do think it will be at school where this book is used the most, and not at home. There may well be a family wanting to fledge their own budding Egyptologist to be the exception to that rule, and if they are smart enough to realise the 'USP' of the format is neither unique nor completely useful, they will take on board a lot. As will a lot of those boats made from drinking straws…
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Tony Robinson's Weird World of Wonders: Egyptians does pretty much the same thing, on a smaller-scale paperback format.
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