Book Reviews: Unfolding Journeys Series – Secrets of the Nile and Following The Great Wall

Available in bookshops nationwide.

The Unfolding Journeys series is a hands-on, tactile exploration series. Aimed at year 3 and 4-year school kids it encourages them to open up a new world – literally. Both books are made of card, with 6-fold, 7- page, double-sided maps.

cv_secrets_of_the_nile.jpgThe book, Secrets of The Nile starts at Alexandra and trails back through 55 points of interest to the ‘source’ of the Nile. Illustrated like a kid had drawn it – albeit a gifted and well-informed one – the book gives us soundbite-sized insights into key geographic and historical landmarks like Cleopatra’s palace in Alexandria, the position of the Rosetta Stone and Amarna, the city of the sun god. Famous faces like Nefertiti, Lady of Grace and the famous Nile crocs put in an appearance. There’s even a reference to a 3,500-year-old port of Al Quseir, which has taken on new life as an inland beach resort. Not all the references are to ancient worlds. There’s a nod to tourism (river boat cruises), Tunis’ pottery and comments about Fava bean growing and agriculture.

On the back of each page is a two-paragraph legend explaining more about each numbered location. These are short and snappy but avoid being patronising of dumbed down. My daughter became a bit of an expert on the Nile lickety-split by tracing each fact from its map number to the detailed explanation. Then she quizzed me. I failed!

I mentioned that the illustrations seemed like a kid had produced these. They were actually done by Argentinian Vanina Starkoff. Bright, colourful and immediately accessible, they are easy to digest, along with Stewart Ross’ clean, punchy text. He’s an expert on travel facts, having produced over 300 titles. He might just know a thing or two about the world.

cv_following_the_great_wallWith the same formula, Hong Kong illustrator Victo Ngai provides the pictures for Following The Great Wall. Again, it’s a trip by numbers starting at the Turpin Basin – an enormous hole “the size of Wales”, 155m below sea level and the fourth lowest on Earth that’s not under water. This is one fact I definitely did know the Wall. The other facts like the Recumbent Buddha of Zhangye, the City of Xi’an and, of course the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an. The Wall is the only man-made structure that can be plainly seen from the Moon, they reckon. It stretches across the country to the coast. So naturally, there’s a mention about the Black-faced Spoonbill and the magnificent Young Lady’s Gate, which is beautifully rendered. Again, the art is short and cleverly simple. The text is also simple, but again, factual and easy to digest.

Both books are multi-returns. A reader can dive in and out or event fold it out and use a dice to count spaces to each location. How you go about it is entirely individual. Either way, it’s great to see a learning tool that doesn’t require charging, uploading or it’s screen cleaned for sticky finger prints. The heavy card construction makes this series ideal for classroom use, too. A great learning tool. Old skool!

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Unfolding Journeys – Secrets of the Nile
by Stewart Ross, illustrations by Vanina Starkoff
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN  9781786575371

Unfolding Journeys – Following the Great Wall
by Stewart Ross, illustrations by Victo Ngai
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781786571977

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