By ISABEL QUIGLY
NEVER has the pill of learning been so enticingly sugared. Books about practically everything come rolling out from the publishers, healthily bridging the gap between home and school. lessons and fun, information and excitement. making children feel, as the best of lemons and teachers do, that it's all one, that there isn't (as there oughtn't to be) a distinction between them.
Take a book like Collecting by Arnoret and Christopher Scott (Michael Joseph, 12s 6d), one of the excellent (and, cons sidering what it provides, marvellously cheap) Blishen series of books by experienced enthusiasts for young enthusiasts. Here's a book that recognises what might have been plain to anyone long ago but somehow wasn't, in the days when children were expected to be interested in games and adventure, except for the freaks, who weren't: that a child with a feeling for the past and an imaginative liking for objects can spend happy hours in antique shops.
Most of these books come in series, which is tempting but useful, because you soon get the feel of a series, the capacity of its editor, and idea of its standard of presentation— whether it will be well illustrated or not, whether the books will be pleasing to handle or not. If money were no object I would get everything in the Blishen series, and (aimed at younger children, but handsome enough for everyone) everything in the beautiful Bodley Head "Natural Science Picture Books" series (Bodley Head, 13s 6d), whose scientific adviser is Gwynne Vevers. The latest in this series is Early Mae, perfect for a bright eight-year-old newly enthralled with his new ideas of the creation.
For their splendid illustrations by Laszlo Gal I should at least get the first two of Paul Hamlyn's Golden De Luxe series at 25s, Siegfried the Mighty Warrior and El Cid, Soldier and Hero, retellings of their legends; and at the same price the more factual Cassell Caravel series edited by Horizon magazine, which are almost formidably handsome at the price and at the same time solidly informative: Mountain Conquest, Building the Suez Canal and The Battle of Waterloo are three fairly recent ones.
Faber's "Your Book of ." is a pleasantly produced series at prices that vary between lOs 6d and 15s. It covers pretty well everything in the hobbies and interests line, from Chess to Space Travel, from Judo to The Way a Car Works. Three
recent ones are Your Book of Chemistry (excellently clear for bedrock beginners), Your Book of Shell Collecting (enormously attractive, a real prodder into action), and Your Book of Paper Folding (mysteriously maddening and intriguing, as presumably it's meant to be).
Methuen's Outlines, at 15s, are a solider, older-child's series, background books for history or geography with a rather workaday appearance that shouldn't put anyone off. The illustrations are excellent, either photographs or contemporary pictures taken from the time being dealt with. I particularly like Medicine Through the Ages and Britain's Inland Waterways; Exploiting the Oceans is more technical.
Muller's Rivers of the World series at 16s. is mere
directly schoolish looking, with a rather formidable blurb about its educational soundness. But once inside the rather dull, off-putting jackets you find a lively enough text and good pictures; my two are on the Congo and the Rhone Paul Hamlyn's Adventures from History series is just the opposite—large, lavish books with bright, almost-pop-looking pictures. Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico, 12s 6d, translated from the Italian, into rather ponderous English, has a story almost too marvellous to spoil and the pietules are garishly effective in a wide-screen sort of way.
Also from Paul Hamlyn, in no particular series, is a real fascinator for youngish children (and surely a lot of older ones too), Indian Crafts and Lore, lOs 6d, which tells you exactly how to do beading, make mocassins, make every sort of Indian costume and headdress, write Indian letters, paint yourself an Indian face, and make yourself a peace pipe, a tepee, a bone breastplate or a bear claw necklace.
Lastly a more ambitious series than the rest: Deutsch's Yardsticks of Science books, 18s., which take "one of the principal problems of matter and examine the problems of its measurement by the scientists' fascinating and still-evolving techniques." They are aimed at the 13-16 age-group and "also for family reference," and David Fishlock's Taking the Temperature is going to stay right inside this family.
That's what the best of these reference books do to you: they don't so much make you look up something you're interested in as start being interested in something completely new, which is another argument for owning books, for letting children have plenty of them around.