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

Book Review: Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake, by Rob Lloyd Jones

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_jake_atlas_and_the_tomb_of_the_Emerald_Snake.jpgAny review of this book is bound to make mention of Indiana Jones, so let me get it out of the way. This book is Indiana Jones for modern kids – and that’s a great thing! Tombs, treasure and villains are all very Jones-ish, however this tomb-robbing adventure is very much a 21st century one, with high-tech spy gadgets galore.

Jake Atlas and his family embark somewhat gloomily on a trip to Egypt. His mother and father are their usual quiet and dull selves – which is a little strange considering they are Egyptology professors headed for their place of expertise. His Goth twin sister Pan is disdainfully silent, and Jake… well Jake just can’t seem to help causing trouble. This time though, the trouble immerses his whole family in an extraordinary adventure and turns their lives upside down.

Things begin to look up once they arrive in Cairo; mum seems to come alive, there is a spark in her eyes and even Pan can’t quite hide her interest in the ancient city. It may just be that this trip will help bring the family closer which is what Jake is hoping for. And it certainly does, but not in the way he thinks.

With their parents kidnapped, Jake and Pan are pulled into a new world of treasure hunting and tomb-raiding. Each brings their own unique skills to unravel clues and try to stay one step ahead of their dangerous rivals in order to save their parents. As they escape one tricky situation after another they edge closer to uncovering a huge secret. Pan’s clever brain and knowledge combined with Jake’s skill at on the spot problem solving sees them bonding and working as a team and embracing their special talents.

The plot moves along at a great pace, filled with action, fast-thinking get-aways, narrow escapes and surprises at every turn; the characters are kept on their toes and the readers are kept entertained and wondering what will happen next.

The author notes reveal that Rob Lloyd Jones studied Egyptology and archaeology, and this interest shines through his writing, with just the right amount of interesting and relevant facts about ancient Egyptian customs and culture blending into the story subtly and without an information overload. The book remains an adventure story without turning into a wordy textbook, and is done so well, that I found myself wanting to climb the pyramids and sail down the Nile. I hope there are more Jake Atlas adventures in tomb-raiding to come – Dr Jones would definitely approve.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake
by Rob Lloyd Jones
Walker Books UK, 2017
ISBN:9781406361445

Book review: Manuscript found in Accra by Paulo Coelho

cv_manuscript_found_in_accraThis book is in bookstores now

I am not familiar with Paul Ceolho as an author nor have I read any of his books, but I remember when The Alchemist was released and vaguely remember reading reviews of it at the time.

Once I got into this book I found myself comparing it to The Prophet by Kahil Gibran and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I dug around and found my copies of these books to do a proper comparison. While the thoughts are similar, that’s where the similarity ends.Manuscript found in Accra is in the guise of a novel, whereas the other two are just a series of either quotes from other people or ones philosophy on life.

I am not a great fan of this type of genre, but found it easy reading – I whipped through it in a couple of hours. Being in my 60’s this book might have been helpful perhaps in my teens to my forties, but now having the wisdom of age and grey hair to prove it, I didn’t find it particularly enlightening.

On opening this book, the first chapter is titled “Preface and Greeting”. This chapter tells of a manuscript being discovered in December 1945 by two brothers who were looking for a place to rest, and how they found an urn full of papyrus’s in a cave in the region of Hamra Dom, in Upper Egypt. This chapter then goes on to tell the story of how this manuscript wasn’t turned over to the appropriate authorities but sold at an antiquities market. The story then goes on to tell of how the manuscript changes hands and ends up in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, where they are supposedly to this day. The Greek translations in the manuscripts are transcribed and so the discovery of The Copt and his teachings become known to the world.

On 14 July 1099 Jerusalem is awaiting the invasion of the crusaders who have surrounded the city’s gates. An unknown Greek man, who became known as The Copt, stood before the citizens of the city of Jerusalem inviting them to share their fears and worries. In return he offered hope and tried to allay their fears with truth.

We read of his insights on subjects as diverse as finding love, our fears in life, looking inwards instead of outwards and what direction our life is taking, to name just a few.

This is a very personal book and while I was not enamoured with it there are probably Paulo Coelho fans that would crawl over broken glass to read his latest offerings. To those fans – enjoy.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Manuscript found in Accra
by Paulo Coelho
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780732297725