This is an exciting book about the history of ships created by a leading paper engineer. Robert Crowther, as he did in his previous history of transport books, Trains and Flight, gives young readers the ‘big shapes’: in this case covering Early Ships, Sailing Ships, Steam powered Ships, Fighting Ships and the variety of vessels in a modern port. Of course something like this global structure organises most of the large number of books on the topic. The appeal of this book lies in its interactivity. Young learners lift flaps, pull tags and move page extensions to find how the different parts of ships moved as well as how they looked. So tabs can be pulled, for example, to show how oars move in synchrony in a Greek bireme and an ingenious moving diagram shows how the blades of a propeller work.
Structures are shown clearly and imaginatively too. The Age of Steam double spread can be extended to show a magnificent cross section of RMS Queen Mary revealing each deck from the wheelhouse and Captain’s quarters at the top, through the passenger areas right down to the boiler room and storage areas.
Visual books sometimes fall down when it comes to the written text. All too often this is little more than gobbets of interesting but miscellaneous information. Here the writing is clear, coherent and adds the sort of information pictures alone cannot provide. So, for example, alongside the propeller diagram, there is text explaining that it is the curved shape of the blades that ‘has the effect of pushing and pulling the boat in the same direction’. This sort of written extension to support diagrams helps clinch concepts. This is a challenging book if young readers are to be taken beyond a superficial interest. Both pictures and text deserve careful reflection and children will benefit from having a teacher or parent present to explain and talk about the history of the ships and about their structures and functions. It would be a splendid resource in the primary school class or central library.