Review also includes Winston Churchill: The Story of the Great British Statesman, Harriet Castor, 128pp, 978-1408131176 (***)
‘Get your hands off me… you stinking Roman thugs’ – these dramatic words catapult the child reader into this lively biography of Boudica, Queen of the Iceni. Boudica is presented as a very real character and Halberstam tells her story as though it were a novel. In doing this, she imaginatively recreates scenes, dialogue and emotions for events that are reported more factually – and tersely – by Roman historians. It is a pity that the author does not include a reference to these sources as a bibliography or perhaps an explanatory note.
Harriet Castor’s life of Winston Churchill follows his career from his time as a journalist in South Africa to his death. Combining a straightforward biographical approach with snatches of lively dialogue – including excerpts from the speeches, as well as imaginative reconstruction of scenes, she has created a very accessible text. The young reader will effortlessly pick up amusing and colourful facts – eg, Churchill almost forgot to escort his bride from the church after their wedding – as well as being given an idea of his character. His war years, naturally, form the bulk of the narrative and while Churchill is very much the ‘hero’, Castor does not omit to mention some of the more problematic decisions involved. Sources are not neglected and a short, but authoritative, bibliography is included.
Designed to appeal to KS2 readers, ‘Real Lives’ is a new series from A & C Black. By adopting a more discursive approach and moving away from the ‘picture and caption’ format currently the norm, it looks back to a tradition favoured by the Victorians. In this, the publishers will hope to capture young readers who are interested in real life events while encouraging more sustained reading.