________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 21 . . . .June 24, 2005


Battle Stations! Fortifications Through the Ages.

Stephen Shapiro. Illustrated by Mei Tsao and Ken Nice.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2005.
32 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55037-888-0 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-889-9 (cl.).

Subject Heading:
Fortification-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Thomas F. Chambers.

*** /4



The first castles were built on the tops of hills and mountains. From that height, even a minor daimyo could defend himself against a much stronger force. His farmers could hide in the castle when invaders ravaged the land. More powerful daimyo built their castles down in the plains to be closer to the fields they ruled. Being lower down made their castles less secure, but their larger armies made up for this. The castles of the largest daimyo were more than just strongholds. Thriving towns grew up outside their walls to serve the samurai (warriors) who lived there.

Building on the plains presented special problems. The hills were smaller, and in some places didn't exist at all. The daimyos were forced to make artificial hills, then build their castles on top. These hills made terrible bases. If the castle on top was too heavy, the hill would collapse. The solution was to enclose the hill in its own thick stone walls. A bigger castle, with a much bigger keep, could be built on a stonewalled base.


Battle Stations! is a handsomely illustrated book about an age-old but very current topic, defense. Its 14 chapters, usually two pages in length, cover a broad range of different types of defensive systems starting with an ancient Egyptian fortress and ending with U.S. President Ronald Reagan's dream of the Strategic Defence Initiative. In addition to describing various types of fortresses, it deals with related subjects such as body armor, tanks and camouflage. One of the most interesting is a chapter on the Roman army's method of laying siege to a fortification. The book stops short of discussing President George W. Bush's plan for a missile defense system to protect North America. This is a pity because, if included, it could have been used as background to a discussion of this important North American current events topic. As it stands Battle Stations! provides considerable scope for imaginative teachers wishing to deal with war and why it has been a perpetual part of human existence. It is well suited to classroom work.

     Stephen Shapiro, author of Battle Stations! is the co-author of Hoodwinked and Ultra Hush-Hush and has an historian's enthusiasm for military history. His writing style is suitable for the intended readership and will be easily understood. Mei Tsao and Ken Nice have considerable illustrating experience. In addition to illustrating books, Mei worked for many years in animated films. Their work makes Battle Stations! a very attractive book, one that readers will find hard to put down.

     Battle Stations! has a number of teaching aids including a glossary, a timeline and an index. The glossary, however, is very brief. If it contained more of the terms listed in the index, it would have been more useful. The index, while adequate, does not include all of the important terms mentioned. These include MAD and nuclear war in the chapter on Continental Defense, which, if included, would have added to the book's value. Each chapter contains coloured illustrations by Mei Tsao and Ken Nice that coincide with the topic of the text. Key parts of the illustrations are highlighted by sidebars.


Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher living in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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