CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 6 . . . . October 12, 2012
All eyes have been on England for the past year and a half: first, at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011; then, this spring, at the many celebrations commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee; and then they focused on the city of London and surrounding areas as England hosted the 30th Olympiad in July and August of 2012. So the revised editions of “The Lands, Peoples and Cultures” series, as they apply to England, are timely indeed.
Like earlier versions of the books, these titles have 12 chapters each as well as a table of contents, a glossary and an index. The text provides general information about a variety of topics and up-to-date examples with which readers can identify. (For instance, in the section about music, the author not only discusses the influence of the “British Invasion” bands, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but also mentions the band Coldplay and award-winning singer-songwriter, Adele.) Illustrations mainly consist of colour photographs, but there are also some charts, maps, sketches, paintings, and black and white archival photos. Many of the photos have been updated from the original series books. These include photos of the Queen on a walkabout at a school in London as part of her Jubilee tour in 2012, the leading actors, now grownup, of the Harry Potter movies attending the premiere of the final film, and a recent photo of Prince Harry taking part in Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Jamaica.
England: The Culture begins with a brief overview of the country’s cultural influence on the many regions it colonized throughout history as well as the new customs and traditions brought into England by immigrants from many other parts of the world. In this title, there is a brief history of the various faiths practiced by the English people along with information about some of the major religious holidays. Other topics include festivals, Jubilee celebrations, and England’s contribution to art, music, architecture, literature and movies, both past and present. There is also a chapter about the English language, its development, regional pronunciations, dialects, and a comparison of English and North American versions of the same words (for example, “lift” for “elevator” and “trainers” instead of “sneakers”). A few interesting facts in this section are that it took nearly 50 years to complete the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, and today, the dictionary is comprised of 20 volumes.
It is said that a person can drive from Nottingham, a city in central England, to any part of the country in a single day, yet for a country that is quite small, it boasts a variety of landforms. England: The Land focuses on geography, climate, major cities, agriculture, fisheries, industry and transportation, as well as regional differences in culture and food. In this title, the terms fens, moors, heaths, peat bogs and downs are explained along with how a buildup of plankton skeletons over time formed the White Cliffs of Dover. Besides London, major cities covered include Birmingham, home of the Cadbury chocolate plant and the Wedgewood China factory, York, in which York Minster Cathedral boasts the largest stained glass window in the world, and Oxford, where the oldest English-speaking university in the world is located. A book about England would not be complete without a section devoted to castles, and four of them are featured in this title. Finally, some of the country’s contributions to the world are highlighted, with some examples being the invention of penicillin, the hovercraft, the first underground railway, Spode and Royal Doulton bone china, and the Jaguar and Rolls-Royce automobiles.
England: The People begins with early mysteries and speculation about stone circles and the people who built them, the best known example of a stone circle being Stonehenge. Hundreds of years ago, England was invaded, in turn, by the Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings. A very brief history of these invasions is presented in this title, followed by information about the influence of various monarchs, exploration and English colonization in North America. Other historical topics include the Industrial and Agricultural Revolution, the nation’s participation in World Wars I and II, and immigration. The remainder of the book focuses on modern-day England, comparing city to country life, and featuring regional foods such as Dover sole from the east coast, apple crumble made from fruit grown in orchards in the southwest, and Stilton cheese from the central part of the country. Readers will learn about oddly-named dishes, such as bubble and squeak, toad-in-the-hole and bangers and mash. Family celebrations (birthdays, baptisms and weddings), popular English sports (rugby, cricket, tennis and English football- also known as soccer) and education are other topics in this title. There is also brief mention of the then upcoming Olympic Games. (It is interesting to note that many wedding customs practiced all over the world began in England, one example of which is the throwing of the bride’s bouquet. Also of note are the facts that rugby and cricket were invented in England, while tennis has been played at Wimbledon since 1877.) Finally, a double-page spread at the end of the book tells about a young boy’s class field trip to a park. This is the book’s only flaw as the story adds no real value to the text and the two pages could have been put to much better use.
This series would be very helpful to elementary school students who are looking for general information.
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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