Making History

With the start of November, most of the country, not least those working in schools, find themselves on the downhill run to Christmas and a break of some kind. Most of you will be deep in assessments and report writing, not to mention end-of-year concerts, assemblies and graduations, so we hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and you’re finding some time for fresh air and deep breathing. November sees the publication of many amazing books, perhaps some of them might even make their way onto the TBR pile you’re putting together for the summer holidays.

Last year we had the stunning A Dinosaur a Day, but this year we have the equally wonderful An Animal a Day. This fascinating book presents the reader with 365 animals, some they will be familiar with, many they will be meeting for the first time, from tiny tardigrades through insects, reptiles and birds to bears, sharks and hippos. Some animals are grouped by habitat – who knew there were animals that live in and around volcanoes? – special characteristics or claims to fame, while others are there to be discovered at random. This would make a great book to share as a class and get to know a new animal every day, as well as a starting point for wider study of all creatures great and small.

For many of us, specific dishes or food becomes associated with particular people. In the picture book What’s in a Dumpling, Grandma?, one of Grey’s favourite things to eat are báhn lọc (pr. bon lock) dumplings, a dish his ngoại (pr. ng-wai) makes for him. Today Grey and his cousin Mila will learn how to make báhn lọc, an activity which not only means there’s plenty of opportunity to eat delicious dumplings, but also ensures they get to spend lots of time with their beloved grandmother and learn about their family. This is a lovely story where the reader learns how to make dumplings, and also, importantly, about the way in which food can connect us with family and culture. As well as the story of the day Grey and Mila spend with Ngoại, there is also a pronunciation guide for the Vietnamese words used in the book and a recipe for the fish sauce traditionally eaten with báhn lọc.

For people who love history, but who – like me – are less interested in monarchies, battles and religion than the way in which “normal” people lived, will find Normal Women compelling reading. Philippa Gregory will be well known to many of you for her historical fiction centred around the women of the English monarchy, so her interest in the roles of women in English history and her research credentials are well established. In Normal Women Gregory has delved into records to learn about the lives of women in England since 1066, and what she’s found blows up many of the assumptions that have been made, and then taught to us, about the importance of women to the making of a nation. While it’s no surprise to learn that the vital work of women has been deliberately written out of history, it is nonetheless fascinating to learn about female money-lenders, guild-masters and pirates. It’s also somewhat thrilling to learn about how women learned to use the laws that were intended to “keep them in their place” to their advantage; if you have no legal standing, you’re free to run up debts and engage in violent protest to your heart’s content! While this is an enormous book, Gregory has broken the 900-odd years it covers into significant periods, and then into noteworthy events, places and roles, which makes it easy to digest.

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