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Our Island Story triumphant!

Civitas, 20 July 2007

Asked this morning on BBC Breakfast if there was one history book he would recommend, historian and Observer columnist Tristram Hunt answered “Our Island Story”. This of course is H.E Marshall’s enchanting children’s history book which Civitas brought back to life in 2005. Since this single mention, just hours ago, sales of Our Island Story have rocketed. How we know is because, incredibly, the book’s hardback sales rating on Amazon has zoomed up to 25 on their Hot 100 Books list. (To give you an idea, all but the very latest of the Harry Potters are just a few ahead in the sales league).

Since the enormously successful initial Daily Telegraph appeal in May 2005, Our Island Story has continued to make a marked impact on parents, teachers, the media and of course, children. From a look at Ofsted’s most recent report on the state of school history teaching, it’s abundantly clear why there is such a thirst for chronological history – especially presented in as captivating a way as by H.E Marshall. Although not all of Ofsted’s conclusions signal a grasp of the flaws in the history curriculum, the inspectorate highlights the inescapable fact that teaching a chaotic medley of historical ‘sound-bites’ is deeply impoverishing children’s understanding of history.
In the most recent chapter in the Our Island Story ‘movement’, the winners of the Our Island Stories history essay competition came to London to receive their prizes from Frank Field and take a tour of living history: the Houses of Parliament. At the beginning of the year Civitas invited primary and secondary school pupils to take part in a competition ‘to bring our island’s story up to the present day’. Year 6 and Year 7 pupils (the first year of primary and last of secondary school) were asked to write an essay about a way in which Britain had undergone change which had somehow touched their own lives. Narjiss Seffar, an 11 year-old from Woodbridge, won the Year 6 prize with a fascinating entry on a 100 years of change in rural Suffolk. The Year 7 winner was Elinor Bushell, who wrote an extremely sophisticated description of the history of her family’s 1920s house in East Sussex.
And excitingly there is more to come! This Christmas Civitas will be bringing out an updated edition of another H.E. Marshall favourite, Our Empire Story. So as they say, watch this space.


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