Reviews /

The First King of England

Authored by Stuart Hill
Published by Bloomsbury

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The First King of England lets the reader re-live the world of early Saxon England alongside Edwin in this exciting retelling of the true story of King Athelstan.

This title covers the life and times of Athelstan, told in an engaging first-person perspective by his servant Edwin, the son of a shoemaker who is first brought to the future King’s attention by brawling with him! From then on, the two are inseparable, and we see both battles and celebrations, the highs and lows of the Saxon leaders, through their eyes.

The study of the history of Saxon England appears in the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum in England, and this book is one which will bring the drama of the period to life for upper junior children. The story doesn’t shirk from the violence and terror of the times with some pretty gruesome battle scenes! The book introduces many key figures, concepts and vocabulary which children will enjoy learning about in this fictionalised context. I was interested to learn about Athelstan’s aunt – the terrifying Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians – who cuts an impressive and powerful figure in one of the battle scenes. Having read the book, I turned eagerly to research more about the people I had encountered in the story and saw how well historical fact is reflected in the book.

History lessons would be made engaging and stimulating by using The First King of England as a core book in a topic on Saxon England. Facts are brought vividly to life, and the book immediately engages thinking and feeling what it would be like to live at this time. Carefully planned stopping points in the story could promote imaginative responses from the children in producing drama, art and writing of their own.

Overall, an exciting and essential new addition to the range of books on Saxon life available, especially in the context of historical fiction.