In this beautifully detailed, laser-cut book, children can travel back in time and explore homes from seven different eras: Late Middle Ages, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, 1920s, 1960s and present day. Peek through the windows, discover the rooms inside and spot the family members.
Reviewed by Nikki Gamble
Homes through History explores seven different homes from the late middle ages to the present day, focussing on the architecture, furniture and fashions. The book is beautifully presented with enticing die-cut pages which add intrigue and playfulness to the reading experience.
The format uses three double-page spreads for each home. The first shows an external scene, the second spread shows a cross-section of the interior and a third provides additional information about fashion, family and furniture. Costumes and novelty pages with Sarah Gibb’s dainty illustrations give this book lots of child-appeal. I would certainly have been absorbed by it as a 7+ reader, imagining myself inside each of the rooms and no doubt I would have been sparked to pick up a pencil and paper and draw my own versions.
The text us straightforward and although there are not many words on a page (about 40 – 100) it still introduces historical details that are not present in the pictures. For instance, the page about homes in the Late Middle Ages explains that the fortification of manor houses was important during The War of the Roses ‘which was a series of battles between two powerful families who wanted to be on the throne.’ This example shows how the explanation for War of the Roses is provided seamlessly by adding a defining relative clause.
Historical terms aren’t always explained though. One point in case is the mention of jousting tournaments and as there’s no support in the illustration or glossary, young readers who may be unfamiliar with the term have no resource to work this out within the book itself. While some might ask an adult or type in an internet search, many will just read past it without question if reading independently. In a school context, this is an opportunity to explain to children how to become active readers.
The interior explanations include child-friendly details ‘people ate with a knife and spoon – forks hadn’t been invented yet’.
One feature that I particularly liked in the furniture section was the invitation to the reader to spot an object in one of the houses from a later period. Children will enjoy this game-like activity but it also subliminally makes the point that there is continuity in history as well as change. Our homes contain objects from the past, which we might have purchased as antiques of could have nee passed down as family heirlooms. This makes an interesting point for discussion as children can be invited to bring objects into school from home (with permission) or investigate the history of older artefacts that they have at home.
The majority of the homes shown are middle class or wealthy family homes. This gives the opportunity to show architectural developments and fashionable styles. Even the Tudor house described as ‘ordinary’ shows a large dwelling which would be supported by servants, rather than a peasant’s cottage. The exception is the 1960s flat built to replace the homes that were destroyed by bombs in the Second World War. In the classroom, it would be good to encourage the children to consider whose lives are not represented. Using the internet and other sources they can find out about other typical dwellings of the period.
In the twentieth century, Britain’s ethnic diversity is represented in the illustration. This is also a possible point to consider. Why is there more diversity in the houses representing the later periods?
Provisional language is used throughout to make it clear were generalisations have been used ‘often’, ‘usually,’ ‘many’, ‘most’. ‘in rich homes’. Drawing attention to these words encourages children to begin to think like historians.
In summary, Homes Through History is an attractive and informative book which provides an engaging introduction to the history of architecture, style and fashion.
Formerly a teacher (secondary and primary) and university lecturer, with over 35 years’ experience, Nikki has worked extensively in schools across the UK and internationally. She is the author of Exploring Children’s Literature now in its fourth edition (Sage, 2019) Co-author of Guiding Readers, winner of the UKLA Academic Book award (UCL, 2016). Nikki runs workshops for teachers, librarians, students and researchers on different aspects of children's literature, an online summer school and an Audience with events, celebrating writers and illustrators who have made an exceptional contribution to the world of children's books. Further information exploringchildrensliterature.uk