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Bumper Book of London

By Becky Jones and Clare Lewis

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Bumper Book of London
The Bumper Book of London is a London fact treasure trove aimed at children from seven years old but with plenty to keep any adult researcher happy too. It's a fun miscellany covering London from Roman times up to today with chapters on London's historical eras and collections such as Sport in London and London Food.

The authors make a great team as they have also written the Adventure Walks for Families series so know the type of information children want to discover and deliver the facts in a witty and easily digestible style.

Book Details
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Date: April 2012
Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches

Book Review

While the Bumper Book of London is aimed at families it does offer accessible facts for all. It is written clearly and so easily understood, unlike other history books, making this a fun way to learn. Adults will gain plenty of pub quiz knowledge and the "Did you know"s will give you a multitude of conversation starters.

I mention that you can learn from this book, which is true, but it's nothing like a school text book and is especially full of facts that teachers don't usually mention, and that children will love, such as poo through the ages. (There's a reason Horrible Histories is so popular with school children.)

Alongside the bite-size facts, there are children's sketches and illustrations which again help to make children feel it's a book they can relate to.

I learned lots from this book including that St Paul's Cathedral was the first triple-domed cathedral in the world, and that gentlemen duelled behind the British Museum in the 17th and 18th century in an area no longer there called the Field of the Forty Steps. Did you know the area of Mayfair is named after an annual London fair in May? Yeah, somehow I'd not picked up on that before either.

Some 'facts' could do with tightening up as Dennis Severs' House isn't a "meticulous restoration" as it's a completely unmodernised property, and the book refers to the London Eye a "ferris wheel" and I'm sure there's some argument about it being a cantilevered observation wheel and not a ferris wheel but even I've given up on trying to explain that one.

I like the good use of modern vocabulary to make the information more accessible, such as Sir Christopher Wren being commissioned to "do up" Kensington Palace and not to 'renovate' or 'design' making it easier for all to understand.

I didn't know you can see the Queen's post and message horse-drawn carriage leave the Royal Mews at 9.30am and 2.30pm to deliver her mail each day and I'll certainly be looking out for the Brougham in future.

I was pleased to see The Ceremony of the Keys is included and I discovered the origins of the Four O'Clock Parade at Horse Guards Parade each day. The book has some great details such as traditions and ceremonies most people won't know.

A few mistakes should be removed for the next edition such as on the page about Royal Warrants from the Queen: Papers and Paints was set up in 1960 by Patrick Baty's father and not by Patrick (I asked him as I didn't think he was old enough!). The well-quoted fact about there being no roads in the City of London as they are all streets or lanes is now out of date as Goswell Road was included in the last boundary change but I loved discovering we have a Ha Ha Road in London!

Since reading the book I've been told the information about equestrian statues is also a myth as, apparently, there is no significance to whether all four hooves are on the ground and how the rider died. But what is intriguing is where to find Victorian wooden cobbles on a London street as a memory of the days of horse-drawn carriages as the surface deadened the sound of metal-rimmed cartwheels and horse's hooves.

Some extra details could be added to make the book even more useful such as the time of the daily pelican feeding in St James's Park (it's 2.30pm, by the way). Also the longest bus route is mentioned but the book doesn't tell us which route it is.

They do debunk some popular myths such as taxis actually do not have to carry a hay bale and never have done.

The are good connections to children's stories such as Paddington Bear and Winnie the Pooh (see the Winnie the Pooh statue at London Zoo) and even the Admiral's House on Admiral's Walk in Hampstead that was supposedly the inspiration for Admiral Boom's house in Mary Poppins as it has a flagpole on top.

I discovered that a pastry I regularly see at my local bakery is actually called a London Cheesecake as the book has a recipe for this and other London recipes such as Steak and Ale Pie.

I also found out that Little Britain, a small lane next to Postman's Park in the City, was where Jaggers' office was meant to be in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. As this is my current bedtime reading that fact has really helped me imagine the characters visiting his office.

Some London film locations are included which will make you want to go out and explore London more including Harry Potter film locations.

There are some really clever compilations to create the 'Top Ten .... things to spot in London' for each era of history and the "London's Best" lists at the back of the book will give you enough inspiration to fill years of time in the capital.

Some more tweaks for the next addition include the name change for the Museum in Docklands which is now called the Museum of London Docklands, and the Cabaret Mechanical Museum is no longer in Covent Garden (it actually has no permanent home at all anymore).

While I've mentioned a few mistakes I do still think this is a great book and an enjoyable read. There is an excellent list of children's stories set in London sorted by historical era and by age group which I'll refer to many times I'm sure. And I absolutely love the attention to detail as all the reds used in the making of The Bumper Book of London are London bus red, Pantone 485. How cool is that?

By the same authors, you may well enjoy The Adventure Walks London Map which includes 20 sightseeing walks on a pocket-sized fold-out map.

If you like this book, you may well also enjoy My Adventure in London, a children's guidebook and souvenir scrapbook.

If you like London books with interesting facts, you may well also enjoy Tube London by Rebecca Sams.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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