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Been reading H.E. Marshall’s Our Island Story with G, in an attempt to supply some sort of chronological framework for the chunks of historical knowledge that G has acquired in school, but has trouble situating in their wider context.  The book, which originally belonged to one of my grandmothers, is a product of unashamed Empire and is hence more than slightly cringeworthy in places, but it has some cracking good stories in it, and is written in short chapters at a level that G can follow without getting bored.

I want G to be able to think critically about ‘facts’ presented (in almost-post-Brexit Britain, an idea of the jingoistic Edwardian nonsense to which some Brexiteers seem to be harking back, can only be a useful addition to the critical-thought armoury), so we’ve been reading a chapter and then discussing it.  We decided, for instance, that the explanation for Stonehenge (that Merlin magicked the stones into position) was not very believable, and we went and did some looking-up to find out how the place is thought actually to have been built.

Today’s chapter was about King Alfred learning to read as a boy; how books, still handwritten on parchment (cue research into and discussion of differences between paper and parchment), were rare and hugely valuable; how Alfred and his brothers competed to be the first to master reading; and how Alfred loved reading ever afterwards.  The chapter is illustrated by a vaguely Pre-Raphaelitish colour plate of an adult Alfred reading what appears to be a blank broadsheet newspaper.  He has a white sheet crumpled in his hand and more on the table in front of him, while other sheets spill off his lap to lie, unheeded, on the floor.

G contemplated it.

“The story said writing was bound in books.  That’s not a book.”

“You’re right, it’s not.”

“That looks like paper, not parshmin.”

“Top-notch observation, G.”

“And books were ‘spensive, so people took care of them.  He’s not taking care.”

“Again, my lovely, can’t fault your logic.”

G stared at the plate for a bit longer.

“Someone’s done silly drawing.”

*****

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