Available in bookshops from Monday 23 November
What an incredible, detailed, beautifully illustrated book. The visual style is arresting, and the use of colour sparing and effective. This is a book that fills a very important niche: history for lively, curious minds. If you have, like me, got a child who says “Instead of a story tonight, can you tell me about the history of the world? Like, the real history?” – This book is for you and yours. It will be one that your kids will go back to and back to, and as they encounter more of the context at school and elsewhere, they will delve into the relationships between historical moments further.
This book comes with no small amount of hype: Julia Marshall says it was her favourite book of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair this year. Given that the fair was in April, it’s fair to say that they have worked incredibly hard to get this out for the Christmas market, with Bill Nagelkerke being responsible for the translation from Dutch. Nagelkerke is a children’s author in his own right, and has been working with Gecko Press on Dutch translation since they began publishing.
The Publishers’ favourite bits
This is quite a publication, so I thought I’d get the publishers’ input about why it is they love the book to give some context, before telling you how my son and I experienced it. Julia says, “I like the way fact mixes with fiction: I like that Pegasus and ET and Harry Potter are in there with Putin and President Obama and Marilyn Monroe and Edmund Hillary.”
Julia goes on to say, “I don’t have a favourite page yet as it is a lovely long process of dipping and diving, and I find it is nice to read with a friend over a cup of tea – every time something new. I like the explorers’ page with the whales and penguins and turtles alongside Columbus and Drake and the great Chinese explorers, and the Polynesian explorers, and seeing all the little lines across the world.”
Rachel Lawson was also on the Gecko team this year – seconded from Whitireia Publishing – and she says, “My favourite spreads are early in the book – the First People and the First Settlements. These spreads encourage you to get up close to the illustrations and see the humour alongside the detail of the history.
“The First People has a fantastic Lucy – probably our oldest human ancestor – stepping out cheekily from behind a tree, shows Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens hunting with their various primitive weapons but also dragging around squalling babies and making cave art. The recent years are also great fun because you find all these things from your own childhood get dragged up from the memory banks. I particularly enjoy the caricatures of famous figures – Putin, Thatcher, Idi Amin, Freddy Mercury…”
Our favourite bits
Mine & my five-year-old Dan’s favourite spreads also occur early in the book – I loved the timeline between the beginning of life and the end of the dinosaurs, with the bones that carry on delving into the earth, to be found so many layers deep by paleontologists later on. He also shows those species that carried on, jumping out of the fiery tar-pit end for the dinosaurs. Dan spotted those that carried on, and enjoyed making the connections between now and all that way back in our pre-history.
I recorded some of our conversations while we were sharing Timeline, and there have been some really interesting moments that have made me revise what I know of history. This is a book that will do that – and force you to think more deeply about connections you may not have considered as part of a whole. There are a lot of ways of explaining events that I hadn’t quite considered – for instance, the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand being ‘The first shot in World War I’. Some periods of our history just seem insane, looking back from our perspective. I’m pretty sure King Leopold II of 2015 wouldn’t have dreamed of taking over an entire inhabited country – the Congo – as his private fiefdom. Under the European Empire-building conditions of the 19th century, however, it seemed perfectly reasonable.
This is the conversation we had about Jesus, born on the Roman Empire page: “He’s really dead, isn’t he?” Probably less dead than others – you know his name, don’t you? God was his father, or that’s what many believe. “I thought God was a girl, because in my book that we’ve got, God was a girl. In the one that has the cow, the sheep, the pig, with a green cover – God was having a baby.”Ah… Mary. She wasn’t God, but she was how Jesus came to be born. “Why is everybody dead?” Well, the people who descend from them aren’t.
Also – the Roman Legionnaires look like Star Wars people (true, and possibly on purpose), at least gladiators had shields and nets and helmets and pitchforks (also true), Michelangelo: “did he turn into a ninja turtle?” (no), and “Why did they make the ships into pirate dragon ships?” To make people fear them “There’s no dragons now, so that won’t work.” (true) I’d never thought about that before, but that was quite a thing back in the day!
For kids – and who else?
While most spreads are dealing with a particular part of, mainly European history, there are a couple that simply talk about great Explorers, or the Space race. The pictures making up the stream across time are labelled, often humorously; there are many more details that you spot every time you open the book. As Julia says – it is nice to read with a friend, in fact I found myself wheeling it out every time I had adult visitors at home, and I will probably keep doing so!
The time and effort that has gone into creating this thing of beauty is massive, and I thank Gecko Press for again delivering a book that will last the test of time. I hope it sells on and on, all over the world.
Get this if you have a curious kid, or if you are a curious adult: whether you have studied history, have a passing interest, or just love big luxurious books. Just get it. If you are wondering about age range – my son is 5. I had to change the language a little to improve his understanding, but if you are looking at a gift, I think from 8 to 99 is a good recommendation.
Feature by Sarah Forster
by Peter Goes
Published by Gecko Press