London’s Splendid Square Mile – Book Review

London's Splendid Square Mile book

Step Outside Guides are a series of child-friendly London guides for family days out. Each book provides a family adventure and no attractions with admission fees are suggested.

Each book has a friendly animal narrator to point out things to see along the way and to grab the attention of younger readers. There are historical facts to discover presented in a quirky way to help you learn while enjoying the walk.

The books are designed to help children from around nine years old lead the family on a tour. There’s information on the walking distance and suggested time needed for the day out at the start of the book as well.

Days out with children often need more breaks so the book has regular ‘Rest Your Legs’ pages activities, plus suggestions on where to stop and sit down.

Key building information such as opening times and web addresses is included along with clear directions on where to start your tour.

More Step Outside Guide Reviews

When I wrote the About.com London Travel site I reviewed other books in the Step Outside Guide series:

The Authors

It’s clear that the authors, Francesca Fenn and Margie Skinner, know London well and as parents are good at making discovery fun for children. Francesca’s son, Sam Fenn, is the illustrator for the series and his style will appeal to younger readers.

Book 7: London’s Splendid Square Mile

The latest title in this series was published in May 2016. It’s paperback, 32 pages and costs £5. You can buy it from these bookshops or directly from the Step Outside Guides website.

Review

As the book is aimed at families, and children are encouraged to lead, I reviewed this book with my 10 year old daughter. She recognised the series immediately and asked if she could write in the book as she’d enjoyed that with previous titles.

We both like Sam Fenn’s illustrations so we thought the cover was great. She was pleased to see the animal narrators – Cam and Bert mice – and she liked the travel tips at the start of the book.

There’s a ‘How to use your book’ page which includes things you can spot and suggests adding a tick when you see a clock so it would have been nice to have boxes for those ticks throughout the book to remind us.

We both thought it was really good to have the starting point, finish and distance with a fantastic map, and the directions are excellent. It’s suggested this walk could take about 5 hours which makes the book really good value.

The Walk

The Square Mile is The City of London and that’s where the Great Fire of London wreaked havoc in 1666. The first pages give a great overview of the fire but there are no book-based activities which could be frustrating for children. But the walk does lead you to see some cool things.

The first activity is to look for the weathervanes on Old Billingsgate. This was London’s old fish market so it might have been good to have a multiple choice question on what type of fish are featured on the weathervanes, or a personal question about your favourite fish.

When you find Cam and Bert on the side of a building we liked the idea to wave and take a photo. The trail then mentioned the vertical garden at the base of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ skyscraper but doesn’t mention that you can book free tickets to visit the Sky Garden at the top of the 37-floor office block.

When we got to the ‘Rest Your Legs’ stop we enjoyed making up street names before heading into the Royal Exchange as the book informed us there’s an ejector seat in one of the shops and you can sit in the seat for a photo if you take this book. How cool is that?

The walk continues into the Bank of England Museum with tips on the fun things to do there.

The next few pages didn’t have many activities but we got some new facts. Did you know The Queen is a member of the Drapers’ Guild? I didn’t either.

There are pages about ‘The Great Twelve’ guilds in The City of London but we thought it might have been better as an activity as this was simply reading and we could do that at home.

And that was our main gripe about the book that there was a lot of information and there could have been more activities along the route. For example, you see a Shakespeare bust in a garden and my daughter wanted to recite lines from Shakespeare in a silly voice and she reckoned other children would enjoy that too. Or the date could be missing from the photo of the memorial so you have to look closely for the answer but there was nothing suggested.

There are some excellent suggestions for what to look at in the Guildhall Art Gallery, especially as it has London’s Roman Amphitheatre underneath.

I’m glad the Museum of London is included as it’s one of my favourite places in London. The book focuses on one exhibit: The Lord Mayor’s Coach but doesn’t give us a reason to look closely. There’s a page about the annual Lord Mayor’s Show but there could have been activities based on the coach itself.

The route ends after a visit to Postman’s Park where you can see The Watts Memorial To Heroic Endeavour. These are tiled plaques to remember the everyday heroes who lost their lives saving others. There could have been an activity to find a name or a date, or to choose a favourite story, but, again, there wasn’t an activity here.

Conclusion

We both really enjoyed our day out and liked this book a lot but we would have liked to see more book-based activities to do along the way and less words. But there’s no reason you can’t make up your own things to do along the way as the route gives you lots of ideas. I do think the Step Outside Guides make excellent family days out.

There is always enough information to help with planning the day – map, directions, tube lines at start and end of the route, what to pack, etc – and it works well with different age groups as the youngest can enjoy the pictures and will like the animal narrator, while older children will enjoy reading the information and leading the family.

Official Website: stepoutsideguides.com

Disclaimer: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a review copy for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, AboutLondonLaura.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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