The Children’s Chronicle by Dorothy Margaret Stuart

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Word PressWhat a nice book!  I’d think it was aimed at children of about 9 or 10, so don’t read it if you want an in-depth historical novel, but, as a book for children, it’s … well, really nice!  It’s one of these books which cover several different periods of history through various different generations of the same family, in this case various different generations of children of the fictional Clavenger family, living in a big house in the South of England.

It starts off during the Hundred Years’ War, with Lionel of Antwerp, one of the sons of Edward III, visiting the family, and then moves on to a visit by Elizabeth I, the Civil War, the fall and rise again of the family finances, the 1745 Jacobite rising and the Napoleonic Wars.  So we’re looking – indirectly, as the children don’t end up in the middle of the battlefields or anything like that! – at times and events which are not only important but also exciting.  This is the sort of thing which I would love to see school history curricula concentrating on!   I appreciate that, especially in these days of political correctness, it’s considered very bad form to concentrate too much on English/British history, or on high politics, but this is the good stuff that gets people interested in history!  The average schoolkid does not want to know about the three field system, or events in some remote part of the world 1,500 years ago.  Get in there with the good stories, and get their attention!

Furthermore, this book – published in 1944, so during the Second World War – doesn’t do what some earlier children’s history books do, and tell it all in a Victorian Whiggish “1066 and all that” way suggesting that the whole course of history happens in an onwards and upwards way sweeping Britain towards freedom and liberalism and world domination!  There’s never any suggestion that Britain is superior to other countries, even in the section about the Napoleonic Wars, and, in the sections about the Civil War and the Jacobite Rising, we are shown both points of view.  As I said, it’s a very nice book! It really is.

One last point!  People don’t tend to write messages in books any more, but older books, especially older children’s books, often do have little notes at the front.  This one’s got a little note which says “To Donald from Uncle Ern and Auntie Lill”.  I always wonder who the people mentioned in these little notes were.  Presumably a working-class family, as “Ern” and “Lill” tend to be working-class “shorts”.  Where did they live?  How old was Donald?  Was it a birthday present, or a Christmas present, or just a general present?  What happened to them all?  OK, I’ll shut up now!  I just always wonder about these things … :-).

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