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A Street Through Time Hardcover – August 20, 2012
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That small complaint aside, here's what you'll find in the book:
* The first spread shows us a Stone Age encampment alongside a river. People make canoes beside skin tipis, dogs fight over scraps, meat is hung to dry, & a shaman performs a ceremony next to a pole supporting antlers. The painting of the forest spreading out in the distance is lush & lovely.
* The second spread shows us the First Farmers about 2000BCE. There is livestock, people practicing with bows & arrows, others dousing a house fire, and our first glimpse of a sacred stone circle that will remain partially visible in ongoing pages. This kind of continuity cleverly teaches an important lesson of history building on & over itself without being preachy about it.
* The Iron Age spread shows people in elaborate Celtic-style plaids & tattoos. A fort has been built on a hill at back- this will go through several iterations as the pages turn. Priests throw iron weapons into the river as an offering- these will be discovered in much later pages in another example of the clever planning given to the illustrations.
* In Roman Times, the village is replaced with a bustling city including schools, townhouses, & baths. Native huts have been pushed further up the hillside & some of the natives are being paraded as slaves. The fort has been modified & the ancient stone circle is partially knocked over.
* In the year 600, we get The Invaders. The Roman city is reduced to a couple ruins & people are living in thatched wooden huts. In one of the little visual jokes you get throughout the book, a man in a rough brown tunic turns his back to pee against a fallen column. The fort is falling apart & a shepherd boy tries to drive off wolves with a sling.
* The year 900 sees Viking Raiders. Illustrator Steve Noon paints these pages at sunset, the village lit by an orange glow that parallels the burning buildings destroyed by the Vikings. The fort has been completely overgrown & the village is centered on a stone church. A priest holds up a crucifix to try to ward off the invaders while others flee to avoid being captured as slaves. Noon does a good job of being relatively honest about the horrors of war in a visual style that is bright & cheerful enough so as not to frighten children.
* The Medieval Village of the 1200s has the fort replaced with a stone castle, & the ancient stone circle partially overgrown. The hills have been plowed into agricultural fields & villagers are trading at a market. As in other pictures, certain elements are reproduced at the bottom & top of the page to point out important elements of the scene & the viewer can play a Where's Waldo to locate the mini-scene within the larger setting. An example on this spread is someone delivering reeds by boat to avoid forest outlaws.
* The Medieval Town of the 1400s has new towers being added to the castle while the stone circle has been completely lost in the trees. This is another example of Noon's weaving historical truths into his illustrations in a subtle way. The disappearance of the ancient sacred site is not pointed out but some observant children are sure to notice it & ask about it, leading to good educational opportunity. The viewer is invited to guess a name for a rowdy inn based on the sign hung out front. Typical slapstick humor is provided by a fashionable couple walking unfortunately beneath a window where a woman empties a chamberpot. A boatman has accidentally dredged up one of the helmets sacrificed centuries ago by a a pagan priest.
* In the 1500s, The Plague Strikes. The scene is painted at night, with the dark blue tones underlining the somber situation. Soldiers are blockading people from leaving the town, a brave priest tends to the dying, & an apothecary attempts to discover a cure.
* In the 1600s, the town is Under Attack. Noon casually says that it is due to "disputes over territory & new ideas about religion". Again, he does not preach about the situation, but also doesn't think that kids need the kind of purely saccharine story that will only make them write off history as boring fairy tales. The castle is being burned & bombed, as are all the buildings of the town. People are hiding & an innkeeper is being threatened by pikes, but no actual murders nor tortures are portrayed. A couple soldiers lie face down, one cries out in pain & grasps his arm, one is hit by a falling sign. It is up to the adult sharing the book with a child to decide how graphic a description of war the child is ready for. The illustration itself looks bright & adventurous & would be unlikely to frighten any but the smallest children.
* In Age of Elegance, the wealthy trade in wigs while others sells goods in the streets or sweep chimneys for a living. The castle is in ruins & the leading family has moved to a Lord's mansion further up the hill.
* In the Grim Times of the early 1800s, children work while a man sits with a newspaper over his head to catch the leaks from a ceiling he can't afford to fix. A barge delivers coal from the mines depicted far off in the distance to fire the factories which belch smoke over the top of the illustration.
* In the late 1800s, we move From Town to City. The city is a-bustle with new inventions like a steam engine in its own train station, a postman from the new, cheap postal service, & a man with a camera taking photos. The Lord's mansion has been joined by a pile of houses spreading into the growing suburbs.
* Finally, The Street Today has high-rises in the suburbs, businesspeople using cell phones & computers, and, importantly, the castle ruins now serving as a heritage site in the center of the modern city.
The final pages have a timeline that does address world history, & a glossary of terms.
A fun book with lively cross-section watercolor drawings that will bring the concept of history to life, this book will lose some relevance for North American readers (who might also enjoy Gail Gibbons' FROM PATH TO HIGHWAY about the Boston Post Road through history), but it is still eminently worthwhile and enjoyable.
I purchased this book because I checked it out from the library and it was THAT good! I don't want to be without it. Whether homeschooling or just parenting children between 4 and 14, this book has a lot of conversation starters about history and our world. My seven and nine year-old children were fascinated by the information and detail provided on each page. It is not a book you read and shelve, but a book that children like to return to often. Highly recommended!