Friday, 30 August 2013


Ah Romans.
Romans, Romans, Romans.

For an empire that fell a pretty long time ago now they don't half exert a lot of influence over the Primary School curriculum.

Bill 'did' them last term. We made a mosaic together and I bought and got out of the library various Improving Books about Roman culture. The most popular of these from Bill's point of view was obviously the least outwardly 'improving': 'Diary of Dorkius Maximus' by Tim Collins and Andrew Pinder, an unashamed homage to Wimpy Kid which does a nice line in incorporating Horrible History-type Roman factoids into an enjoyable tale of the tribulations of ancient middle school. There's a sequel just come out and a third due next year and Bill will want to seek them out.

He'll especially want to seek out the third- 'Dorkius Maximus in Pompeii'. Romans are good and all, but Romans combined with explosions, death, destruction and metres of raining hot ash are SO much better. As soon as Bill heard that there was an exhibition all about Pompeii featuring REAL bodies (well real body cavities technically but who's fussing) he was very keen to go.

So off to the British Museum we went last week to explore 'Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum'. It was great, but from Bill's point of view undoubtedly heavy on the Life-side rather than the Death. He hadn't quite taken the point that most people were interested in what the eruption had managed to preserve rather than what it had destroyed. However we were all affected by the sight of the charred baby's crib and the small domestic details like a blackened loaf of bread or pile of figs. The dormouse fattening jar was pretty good too...

We also spent a long time looking at the items found with the bodies at Herculaneum- an insight into what people had chosen as their most precious possessions to run with. The melted, twisted keys were poignant. I asked the boys' what they'd have picked up. Bill went for the cat and his money and "Probably my sticks Mum. They're pretty special to me."

In the gift shop afterwards we bought Usborne's Young Reading 'Pompeii' by Karen Bell, illustrated by Emmanuel Cerisier. This takes the approach of fictionalising the stories of the different inhabitants of Pompeii as imagined from the artefacts they left behind. Bill enjoyed reading about Terentius Neo, the baker and his wife whose fresco we'd seen in the exhibition.

But by FAR the best book on the eruption- and actually one of the first non-fiction books that has really, properly engrossed Bill is an out of print volume we got out of the library called 'The Secrets of Vesuvius' by Sara Bisel. Sara Bisel is the archaeologist specialising in bones who was the first to examine the skeletons discovered at Herculaneum in the 1980s. The book is a beautiful balance of the painstaking science of excavation and the imaginative insights into real lives that excavation can reveal. Archaeology is COOL! It's written in a very accessible style- almost like a murder mystery, again with fictionalised sections-but with plenty of good science and good history within. Plus it has a lot of full colour photos of skeletons. Worth seeking out in your own library.

Because you're going to be doing the Romans too.
a trio of Roman recommendations

Absolutely regulation mosaic. You don't want to mess with our lantern-jawed Caesar
'The Secrets of Vesuvius' by Sara C. Bisel (OOP) pub. Hodder Headway, isbn 0-340-54352-3
'Pompeii' by Karen Ball, illus. Emmanuel Cerisier, pub. Usborne, isbn 978074606832-8
'Diary of Dorkius Maximus' by Tim Collins, pub. Buster books, isbn 978-1-78055-027-5

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