Monthly facts, anniversaries, and information linked to the books that Janet has written

June 2024 Bookfact

Who was the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air?

On 18 June 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. She accompanied the pilot Wilmer Stultz and mechanic Louis Edward Gordon as a passenger. The flight took nearly twenty-one hours and the plane almost ran out of fuel. The original plan was for the plane to land in Ireland but because of bad weather it landed in Burry Port on the coast of Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom. The news of Amelia’s flight was immediately in all the media. She wrote a book about her flying adventure and gave talks across the United States. But of course, Amelia’s dream was to do her own solo flight across the Atlantic, and not just as a passenger, something which she achieved in 1932.

may 2024 Bookfact

Why is Miuccia Prada Important in the world of fashion?

Miuccia Prada is an international fashion designer and businessperson. She was born on 10 May 1949 in Milan, Italy. Her family ran the important ‘Prada’ company which made traditional handbags, shoes and luggage. However, at first, Miuccia didn’t go into the family business, instead she studied political science at university.

After some years, she took over the family company and successfully turned it into a modern fashion business, along with her husband Patrizio Bertelli. Under Miuccia’s direction, the company developed exclusive fashion collections designed by Miuccia herself. These clothes were unusual in that they often challenged traditional thinking and gender stereotypes about what women should wear. Miuccia’s designs and management helped the company to become one of the world’s leading fashion brands with exclusive shops in many countries across the globe.

april 2024 Bookfact

When is chocolate mousse day?

There are different days throughout the year which celebrate chocolate, and Chocolate Mousse Day is marked on 3 April. The word ‘mousse’ means ‘foam’ in French. The first types of mousse were made with fish or meat, along with beaten eggs to make them light.


Chocolate arrived in France in the early seventeenth century and it seems that the first chocolate mousse recipes began to appear in recipe books from the 1750s. Since then, it has become a popular dessert in restaurants around the world. A basic chocolate mousse recipe contains eggs, chocolate and sugar, but there are many exciting variations on the recipe with a range of different ingredients.

March 2024 Bookfact

Who was jules verne?

The French author Jules Verne died on 24 March 1905 at the age of 77. He was a poet, playwright and novelist who many people consider as the father of modern science fiction. He wrote different types of novels, but became famous around the world for stories which explored innovations in technology. These stories included ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ which was first published in 1865. This novel described a huge rocket which took three passengers on a journey into space and around the Moon. Although his ‘astronauts’ didn’t land on the Moon, his story predicted many important aspects of modern space exploration.

february 2024 Bookfact

When was the first hollywood film made?

February 1910 was a very important month in the history of the film industry. A film director called D.W. Griffith came to Hollywood to make the first film at this time. It was called ‘In Old California’ and like all films of this era, it was a silent movie – actors didn’t speak in films for another twenty years. At only seventeen minutes, it wasn’t very long at all, but it did have a story! Other directors soon came to Hollywood. It was ideal for making movies because the weather was good, the local people were friendly and there were beautiful features such as hills and mountains nearby. 

This was just the beginning of a big industry in Hollywood with huge film studios and important ceremonies such as the Oscars.

january 2024 Bookfact

When did henry vIII die?

Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547 at the age of 55. For much of his life he was a fit and athletic man. However, in 1536 he suffered serious injuries from an accident at Greenwich which happened during a jousting match. Henry fell from his horse and was unconscious for two hours. From this time onwards his health became poor, he became very overweight and he had problems with his leg from the jousting injury.

Henry was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, near his third wife Jane Seymour. Other kings and queens are also buried in the chapel including Edward IV, Henry VI, George V and Queen Mary.

december 2023 Bookfact

When was 'journey to the west' first published?

 ‘Journey to the West’ is often considered to be one of the great Chinese novels. It was first published in the sixteenth century during the Ming dynasty. It is attributed to the author Wu Cheng’en, but it is also believed to have roots in ancient Chinese folk tales. The novel is a long account of the legendary pilgrimage of a young Chinese monk Tripitaka to bring some holy writings back from India. He is accompanied by three helpers – Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy.

In 1942 the story was translated into an English version called ‘Monkey’ by Arthur Waley. It was later turned into a very successful television series, and this made the story popular around the English-speaking world.


November 2023 Bookfact

What was the first sherlock holmes story?

 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first story featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson was accepted for publication on 20 November 1886. The novel was called A Study in Scarlet and appeared in print the next year. Conan Doyle was only twenty-seven when he wrote the book and managed to complete it in three weeks. It received very positive reviews in the newspapers and this encouraged Conan Doyle to write a sequel called The Sign of Four. In all, he published four novels, and fifty-six short stories about the famous detective and his assistant, with the last story appearing in 1927.


October 2023 Bookfact

What did columbus discover in 1492?

The twelfth of October 1492 is the day that explorer Christopher Columbus completed his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in the ‘New World’. However, the place that he actually reached was an island called San Salvador, which is now part of the Bahamas in the West Indies.

Columbus mistakenly thought that he had discovered a new route to India and he described the local people as ‘Indians’. However, his discovery had other very important implications. It led to the European exploration and colonization of the American continents and led to huge changes there, as well as major developments in the international trade of commodities.

September 2023 Bookfact

When was marco polo born?

People believe that Marco Polo was born on 15 September 1254 in Venice. He came from a rich merchant family in the centre of the city. Sadly, Marco’s mother died when he was young and it is thought that he went to live with other family members.

At this time, Venice was a rich city which traded with countries around the Mediterranean Sea, and also faraway places in Africa and Asia. Marco’s father and uncle frequently travelled away on business in search of goods. In fact, Marco was 15 when he first met his father, Niccolo.

Niccolo and his brother, Maffeo, had gone on a long journey to China along the Silk Road before Marco was born and only returned in 1269.

August 2023 Bookfact

How do nomads live and travel in the desert?

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is on 9 August every year. It celebrates the lives of indigenous communities across the world, including those who live in deserts.

Many desert people are nomads – they move from place to place and look for water and food. Some nomads keep animals and they need to find water and food for them too. For example, the Tuareg people of the Sahara, move across the desert with their goats and other animals.

Tuaregs often take their homes with them – a large tent with a big bed inside. They used to take their tents by camel in the past, but now this is usually done by car. Many Tuaregs also now live in homes next to the desert, and stay there all the time.


JuLY 2023 Bookfact

Who was Henry VIII’s fifth wife?

Henry VIII married his fifth wife Katherine Howard on 28 July 1540. She was from a well-known family and was the niece of the Duke of Norfolk, one of the most powerful men in the country. Katherine was a teenager and she was thirty years younger than Henry. In marrying her, he perhaps saw the chance to regain his lost youth.

At this time, he had three children from previous marriages: Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. According to information from the time, Katharine was friendly with Elizabeth and Edward, but had a difficult relationship with Mary who was older than her.

A year after marrying Henry, Katherine began to have an affair with Thomas Culpepper – a member of the royal court. She didn’t have the experience of life at court to understand the extreme dangers of such behaviour. Henry learned about her affair in November 1541. He had adored his young wife and found it hard to believe the news at first. However, Henry soon took away Katherine’s title of Queen, and later decided that she should be sent to the Tower of London.

On 13 February 1542, Katherine was beheaded at The Tower of London and was buried there. It is believed that she was only eighteen or nineteen years old at the time

June 2023 Bookfact

How is Merlin Linked to Stone-henge?

Stonehenge is an ancient stone circle near Salisbury in the UK. According to some legends, the magician Merlin transported the stones across the sea from County Kildare in Ireland to create a memorial to dead warriors who were killed by the Saxons. 

This legend was first written down by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century in his book, The History of the Kings of Britain.  

 However, scientific evidence shows that the stones didn’t come from County Kildare in Ireland. The larger ones were transported from the Marlborough Downs, not too far from Stonehenge, and some of the smaller ones originated in the Preseli Hills in South-East Wales. 

May 2023 Bookfact

When were the first fire brigades in the UK?

4th May every year is International Firefighters Day which celebrates the work of firefighters around the world and the brave work that they do.

At the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were no organized fire brigades. Firefighting was done by individuals and they used very basic equipment such as buckets and ‘water squirts’ for putting water onto buildings that were on fire.

The large loss of buildings, property and money during the Great Fire of London led to the creation of insurance companies. People could insure their house so that they would receive money if their house burned down. The new companies also had their own fire brigades to protect the properties of people that they insured. These companies are the origin of the fire brigades that exist in the UK today.

April 2023 Bookfact

What is the cherry blossom festival in san francisco?

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival in April is one of San Francisco’s most exciting celebrations and every year it draws over 200,000 people to a wonderful display of Japanese culture and tradition. The festival takes its inspiration from an ancient festival in Japan which celebrates the appearance of cherry blossom on the trees in spring. The festival includes Japanese music concerts, street parades and the chance to enjoy traditional Japanese food.


San Francisco is home to only one of three Japantowns remaining in the United States and it is the oldest of its kind on the US mainland. This area is the cultural centre of 12,000 residents of Japanese descent.

March 2023 Bookfact

When did Merlin first appear in Books?

Merlin is a mythical figure who features prominently in the legends of King Arthur. The first recorded mention of Merlin was in a book called The History of the Kings of Britain. It was written by a religious man called Geoffrey of Monmouth who lived from 1100 to 1155 in Wales. It is believed that he joined together two different mythical figures called Myrddin and Ambrosius, but they had no connection with the legends of King Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s new creation proved to be popular and caught people’s imagination. Later, writers in France and other places developed a fuller character based on Merlin and this helped to create one of the most important figures in the literature of the Middle Ages. Over the centuries, Merlin has appeared in a wide range of poems, stories and tales and is still popular to this day.

February 2023 Bookfact

What are the origins of nutella?

5th February is World Nutella Day – a chance to celebrate the famous chocolate and hazelnut spread which was first produced in Italy in 1964. However, the origins of Nutella go back to the middle of the nineteenth century and the creation of a new type of sweet.


In 1865, the famous Italian chocolatier Caffarel  invented some small long chocolate sweets. They were filled with a type of chocolate paste made with hazelnuts, and they were called ‘giandujas’. They can still be bought in Italian chocolate shops today, but each chocolate maker has their own secret recipe so they are all slightly different.

The idea of Nutella was based on the chocolate paste inside these ‘giandujas’. It proved to be extremely popular in many different countries and it is said that a quarter of the world’s hazelnuts now end up in Nutella!

January 2023 Bookfact

How old was marco polo when he died?

Marco Polo died on 8 January 1324 at the age of 69 in his birthplace, the city state of Venice – now in modern day Italy. Many people consider that Polo was the greatest traveller of his time because of his long and dangerous journey from Venice to China and back, and the subsequent book that he wrote called The Description of the World. He was only fifteen when he started his journey with his father and uncle, and returned at the age of thirty-nine years old after living in China for many years. Considering the extreme dangers that Polo encountered on his travels, it is extraordinary that he lived to such an old age compared to others of his era. Next year will be the seven hundredth anniversary of his death – watch out for major events to coincide with this!

December 2022 Bookfact

How do we know about the travels of ibn Battuta?

Ibn Battuta was a famous traveller who lived in the fourteenth century and spent over twenty nine years journeying across different regions of the world. It is believed that he visited around forty-four countries that exist today. These include China and India, as well as countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and Mali in West Africa.


We know a great deal about Ibn Battuta’s journeys because he dictated the account of his travels to a scholar and writer. He was called Ibn Juzayy and he lived in Andalusia in what is now part of modern-day Spain. Ibn Battuta recounted many details about the social and political life of the countries that he visited to Ibn Juzayy, and this gives us a very full description of life in the medieval world. 

November 2022 Bookfact

What was Ellis Island and when did it close?

Ellis Island was a place in New York harbour where immigrants were processed on their arrival to the United States. It opened on 2nd January 1892 and over the years more than twelve million people from around the world passed through it. Today tens of millions of Americans can trace their roots back to it.


It finally closed on 12th November 1954 and in 1984 renovation started in order to turn it into a public museum. The work cost 160 million dollars and it was the biggest restoration project in American history. The Museum of Ellis Island finally opened in 1990 and it has over two million visitors every year.

October 2022 Bookfact

What record did Amelia Earhart break in October 1922?

A hundred years ago this month Amelia Earhart broke her first record. She had only been flying for a short time when she took part in her first air show in a plane called The Canary. At the show, she flew to 14,000 feet (4,300 metres) which was the highest altitude that a woman pilot had ever reached.


It was the first of many records that Earhart broke during her career as a pilot. She later became the first woman (and only the second pilot) to fly solo and nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first person to fly across the Atlantic twice. She also became the first woman to fly solo and nonstop across the United States.

September 2022 Bookfact

What Books did jules verne write?

Jules Verne (1828-1905) was a French novelist who wrote a series of best-selling adventure novels. These included Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1872).


Verne is considered to be one of the most important novelists of his age. He greatly influenced other writers with his ideas about technological change and the impact of science, and he is often called ‘The Father of Science Fiction’. Over the years, many of his books have been made into films, and he is still widely read and translated into other languages.

AUGUST 2022 Bookfact

How many Sherlock Holmes stories did Arthur Conan Doyle write?

Conan Doyle wrote the first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887, and it was called A Study in Scarlet. He went on to write three further novels and 58 short stories. The short stories began appearing in the famous Strand Magazine from July 1891. The collected Sherlock Holmes titles have sold over 60 million copies since they were first written and have been translated into ninety-eight languages.

Over the years, many other authors have written about the character of Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr Watson. The novels and authors include The Final Solution by Michael Chabon, The Doctor’s Case by Stephen King and The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman.

July 2022 Bookfact

What happened to Amelia Earhart?

On 2 July 1937, a plane flown by Amelia Earhart disappeared during an attempt to fly round the world. Earhart had wanted to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world by plane. She had set off from the United States in May 1937 to fly east with her navigator Fred Noonan.

On 2 July they were on one of the most dangerous parts of their journey, a flight of nineteen hours from New Guinea to tiny Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. At first, the flight went well, but during the night Earhart and Noonan began to have problems with radio communication with Howland Island. It seemed from their final messages that the plane was running out of fuel and they were unable to find the island.

After their disappearance, ships immediately began to search the waters around Howland Island, but they were unable to find the plane. There have been many stories about what happened to Earhart and Noonan. However, most people think that they died when their plane crashed in the ocean near Howland Island.

June 2022 Bookfact

What is desertification?

17 June is the United Nations World Day to Combat Desertification. Desertification is when land turns into desert. It is happening in different countries around the world, but it is a particular problem in the Sahel region of Africa. This region is a large area to the south of the Sahara Desert.


There are different reasons why desertification is happening. Firstly, climate change is contributing to desertification. In desert areas, the weather conditions are becoming warmer and drier.


There is also population growth on the edges of deserts because of activities like mining or tourism and this increase in population leads to the use of resources like wood. The cutting down of trees for firewood means that the roots of the trees don’t hold the soil in place. The wind then blows away much of the soil leaving behind desert.


In addition, population increase leads to the presence of domestic animals like goats, and these can eat the bushes and trees which keep the soil in place.


MAY 2022 Bookfact

What is Fair Trade?

7 May is World Fair Trade Day. Fair trade is when a company buys things from producers in a developing country at a fair price. For example, a chocolate company in the UK buys cocoa to make chocolate from a producer in Ivory Coast or Ghana at a fair price. This system is important because it can help farmers pay their workers enough money to live on and enable them to provide safe conditions for their workers. The fair trade system also encourages smaller farmers to work together in cooperatives and to farm sustainably which is better for the environment.


Many companies now use fair trade cocoa to make their chocolate products. Look out for the fair trade logo on chocolate bars when you go to your local store, sweet shop or supermarket.

April 2022 Bookfact

Why is April 1492 an important date in


On 17 April 1492, the explorer Christopher Columbus signed a historic document with the Spanish monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. The document was a contract for Columbus to find lands called the ‘Indies’ and in return receive 10% of all the riches that he gained there. In the contract, he was also given the title ‘Admiral of the Ocean Sea’ and made the future governor of any lands that he discovered.


The document was signed in Santa Fe in Granada, and it is important in the history of exploration and colonisation. We no longer have the original document, but a copy of the contract dating from 1493 still exists. Without the financial backing of Isabella and Ferdinand, Columbus wouldn’t have been able to make his voyage across the Atlantic in August 1492. 

March 2022 Bookfact

What important event happens in San Francisco in March?

In March every year, there is the famous St Patrick’s Day parade through the streets of San Francisco. St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and San Francisco is home to many people of Irish heritage who celebrate this important day. St Patrick’s Day is on 17 March, and the parade happens around this time.

The first parade took place in the city in 1853. The event has become more important over the years, and now includes a festival too. The parade begins in the late morning and goes through all the important streets, finishing at the Civic Center Plaza near San Francisco City Hall. It includes marching bands, musicians, dancers and large carnival floats.

Crowds line the streets and cheer the parade as it goes past. People wear all sorts of different costumes on this day, but the most important thing is to wear green – the colour of Ireland.

February 2022 Bookfact

How many countries did Ibn Battuta visit?

Ibn Battuta was born on 25 February 1304 in Tangier, Morocco, and he went on to become one of the greatest travellers of his age. People now believe that his travels covered 44 modern day countries. These included countries that we now know as China, India, Spain, Mali and Tanzania.

He started his travels at the age of 21 with a pilgrimage to the Islamic Holy City of Mecca, but instead of returning to his home country, he continued to travel for many years. He often stayed and worked in countries before moving on to another. For example, he had an important job working for the Sultan of Delhi for two years before he got into trouble with the Sultan, and needed to leave suddenly.

In the end, Ibn Battuta travelled for 29 years and covered an incredible 75,000 miles using a variety of methods of transport. These included sailing on small boats and ships, riding horses or donkeys, and travelling long distances on foot.

January 2022 Bookfact

Who was the first person to go through Ellis Island?

Seventeen year-old Annie Moore from Ireland was the first person to arrive at the Ellis Island immigration centre in New York. She made the voyage across the Atlantic on the ship The Nevada and arrived on 1 January 1892. The crossing took nearly two weeks. She had the cheapest type of ticket in steerage, the lower deck of the ship. Annie came with her two brothers, Anthony 15, and Phillip 12. They were travelling to join their parents, who moved to the United States four years earlier.

As Annie was the first person to go through the Ellis Island immigration centre, she was given a $10 gold coin. Annie lived in the Manhattan area of New York for the rest of her life and died at the age of 47. Every year, the Irish American Cultural Institute gives the Annie Moore Award for important contributions to the Irish American community.

There are two statues of Annie Moore – one at Ellis Island, and one at Cobh Heritage Centre in Ireland where she embarked on The Nevada to sail to the United States.

December 2021 Bookfact

What is the most famous Sherlock Holmes story?

The most famous Sherlock Holmes story is, of course, The Hound of the Baskervilles. In this story, Holmes and Watson investigate the death of Sir Charles Baskerville. People think that Sir Charles died because of a family curse related to a very big dog or ‘hound’. Holmes and Watson travel to lonely Dartmoor in the West of England to find the truth about the mysterious death.

The story was first published in 1901 in The Strand Magazine in a serialized form and it was immediately very popular. It was the third of four Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There have been numerous film, TV and theatre adaptations of the book, including an episode of Sherlock in 2012 with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

November 2021 Bookfact

Why do stories from the Arabian Nights make good films?

There are many films from the stories of the Arabian Nights – also known as ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. These stories are centuries old but people still find them interesting and exciting.

These stories make good films for a number of reasons. Firstly, they often take place in exciting and magical faraway places.  Secondly, the most important characters in the stories are ordinary people with everyday lives. By chance, the characters’ lives suddenly change and they have amazing adventures. They meet terrible enemies and they need to escape from them quickly, and this is all very exciting for the audience to watch.

There are different types of films about the stories of One Thousand and One Nights. There are popular cartoons like Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003) by Dreamworks.

There are also many exciting live-action films. For example, there is Disney’s Aladdin (2019) with Will Smith and Naomi Scott, and the older Hollywood film Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944).

October 2021 Bookfact

What places can you visit in the UK from the time of Henry VIII?

There are many places or things that you can visit today from Henry VIII’s time. These include:

Hampton Court Palace, near London. Henry rebuilt much of this and spent a lot of his time here. Visitors can still see his historic tennis courts. People play tennis on them today!

Banqueting House in Central London. This building was once part of the Palace of Whitehall which Henry VIII used from 1530. Tourists come to look at the amazing ceiling with nine paintings from the artist Reubens. These are from 1636, after the time of Henry.

St George’s Chapel Windsor Visitors can see the place where Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour, are buried. The chapel is part of Windsor Castle, which is around 40 km from Central London.

Portsmouth Dockyard You can see the remains of Henry’s big ship Mary Rose. It sank in 1545 and nearly 500 men who sailed on the ship died. Portsmouth is 120 km from London.


September 2021 Bookfact

How much of London was destroyed by the Great Fire?

When a fire started in Pudding Lane on Sunday 2 September 1666, most people in the city weren’t concerned. Fires were common in London at that time and people thought it would stop. 

But on 2 September there was a strong wind from the east and this made the fire spread quickly through the wooden houses of the old city. Soon, many streets were on fire and over five days large parts of the city of London were destroyed.  

Around ninety churches, and thirteen thousand houses were burned, with over 100,000 people made homeless.  Great buildings like the Royal Exchange, the Guildhall, and the medieval St Paul’s Cathedral were lost forever. In the end, the fire destroyed around two-thirds of the centre of the city, but amazingly only nine people died.

From the ashes of the fire a new city was created with fine buildings, wide streets and a huge cathedral created by Sir Christopher Wren – the St Paul’s Cathedral that we know today.

August 2021 Bookfact

What did Columbus hope to discover?

Christopher Columbus left the Spanish port of Palos on 3 August 1492 and began his voyage across the ‘Ocean Sea’ (the Atlantic). But what did he hope to discover?

Columbus wanted to find the ‘Indies’. These were the far-off lands of Asia, to the east of India, and they included places that we now call China and Japan. 

Before the time of Columbus, Europeans went to India and China along the Silk Road, and they brought back silk and spices. At this time, the rule of the Mongol people gave stability to much of Asia. However, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the land route to Asia became very dangerous and difficult. Europeans wanted to continue to trade with Asia, but they needed a sea route there.

Like many educated people at the time, Columbus knew that the world was round. He hoped to reach the Indies by sailing west across the Ocean Sea. His basic idea was correct, but of course, he didn’t realise that the American continent was in the way.

July 2021 Bookfact

Who invented the detective Sherlock Holmes?

The detective Sherlock Holmes was created by the British novelist Arthur Conan Doyle. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1859 and originally studied to be a doctor. While studying, he began to write short stories and some of these were published. He began to work as a doctor, but he became increasingly interested in writing, and he created the character of Sherlock Holmes at the age of 27. 

Holmes, and his assistant Dr Watson, first appeared in a story called A Study in Scarlet which was published in 1887. Holmes is partly based on a man called Joseph Bell, who was Conan Doyle’s lecturer at university. Bell had the ability to tell information about a person by observing and looking at them. We see similar abilities in the famous character of Holmes who can deduce facts about people simply from observation.

June 2021 Bookfact

Where do the stories of Ali Baba and Sinbad come from?

Ali Baba and Sinbad are from a group of stories called One Thousand and One Nights. This collection originally came from the Middle East and India. Despite the title of the stories, there aren’t one thousand and one of them – just several hundred!

Most of the stories were included in the collection between the 8th and the 13th century, but Ali Baba and Sinbad became part of the stories in the 18th century. The tales came from many places and we don’t know who wrote them. 

The organisation of One Thousand and One Nights is unusual. They are ‘stories in a story’ with a story teller called Scheherazade. She recounts the stories every night to her husband King Sharyar who wants to kill her. She always stops in the middle of each story and finishes it the next day. Sharyar listens and wants to hear the end of the story, so the clever Scheherazade stays alive.

May 2021 Bookfact

What was the Silk Road?

Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) was one of the greatest travellers of his time. He made an epic journey to China and back from his home city of Venice. A large part of his journey was on the famous Silk Road.

The Silk Road was a 6,500 km route between China and Europe. It started in the second century BC and was very important at the time of Marco Polo. Merchants used the route to bring spices, silk and many other goods from China to Europe. 

Traders could journey from place to place along the Silk Road and buy and sell things as they travelled. But life on the Silk Road was often very difficult. Travellers and merchants like Marco Polo usually journeyed together in large groups called caravans to protect themselves against dangerous thieves.

For modern tourists who want to explore life on the Silk Road today, there are organised tours along the route which stop at many of the places Marco Polo described in his famous book The Description of the World.

April 2021 Bookfact

What did Jules Verne predict that became true?

The French science fiction writer Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) predicted many scientific developments which have come true over the years. In From the Earth to the Moon written in 1865, he described a huge rocket which took three people around the Moon. The aim of this journey was the exploration of the surface of the Moon.  Although his ‘astronauts’ didn’t land on the Moon, the description of this space mission predicted many aspects of modern space travel.  In addition, the rocket was sent from the US state of Florida which predicted the founding of the John F. Kennedy Space Centre there in the early 1960s.

In his book Paris in the Twentieth Century, he also described the expansion of modern cities with large numbers of skyscrapers, and in his well-known novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, he predicted the invention of the electric submarine. In the story, he famously included a giant squid which attacked the submarine. We now know for certain that these creatures truly exist!

March 2021 Bookfact

Who was Amelia Earhart and what was her greatest success?

Amelia Earhart was one of the most famous pilots of the 20th century. She became well-known for her long and dangerous flights to different countries.

She was born in Kansas the United States in 1897, and developed a great spirit of adventure as a child. She first showed an interest in flying at the age of twenty-one after watching an air show with a friend. Two years later, she began to take flying lessons and became a very skilful pilot. Flying was extremely dangerous at this time and there were often fatal accidents. 

She became famous in June 1928, when she was the first woman to make the long flight across the Atlantic as a passenger, and pictures of her began to appear regularly in all the newspapers.

Her greatest achievement was becoming the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic in May 1932. She tried to fly around the world in 1937, after a first attempt failed. However, she died when her plane crashed in the South Pacific in mysterious circumstances and her body was never found.

Earhart was one of the greatest pilots of her age, as well as a shining example to women everywhere.

February 2021 Bookfact

How many Aesop's Fables are there?

Children around the world know the name of Aesop and have heard of his wonderful stories. Yet not much is known about Aesop himself. People believe that he was a slave and a clever storyteller who lived in the 6th century BCE. The legend goes that Aesop became a free man because of his intelligence and storytelling abilities. However, his existence remains uncertain and we don’t have any original writings from him today. The collection that we call ‘Aesop’s Fables’ is in fact made of stories from across the centuries which have been credited to him. In particular, the fables often feature animals or objects that can speak, find the answers to problems and have human characteristics. Perhaps the most famous one is The Hare and The Tortoise, which has appeared in many different versions. There are a huge number of the stories, over 700 in all, so there are plenty for people to choose from.

January 2021 Bookfact

What was Henry VIII like as a young man?

Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547 at the age of 55. People often think of him as a large, bad-tempered king who was a poor husband to his six wives. But it is important to remember that Henry was very different when he was younger.

As a young man he was athletic and good-looking with red-gold hair. At 1.87 metres tall, he was much taller than other men of his time. According to contemporary accounts, he was the most handsome prince in Europe.

Henry was an intelligent man who enjoyed discussion and debate. He could speak different languages including French and Spanish, and he could read and write in Latin too.

Dancing was one of his great passions, and he was very musical. The instruments that he played included the flute, the lute and the harp and he also had a very good singing voice.

Above all, he was a passionate sportsman and he loved being outside. He enjoyed hunting and horse riding, and often needed to change his horses two or three times in one day. His other favourite activities were wrestling, archery and tennis.

If you want to see Henry’s famous indoor tennis courts go to Hampton Court Palace near London. People still play a version of tennis there. It’s the perfect place to stand and imagine what the young Henry was like.

December 2020 Bookfact

How many lights are there on Bay Bridge in San Francisco?

San Francisco is famous for its parades and festivals, and at this time of year there is the ‘Illuminate SF Festival of Light’. This year the festival lasts from Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday of November) until the 23rd of January. It’s always very popular with both local people and visitors to the city.

The festival celebrates the magic of light by illuminating famous buildings and putting light installations in public places. There are over forty light displays that people can visit outside, and these are located in 17 different neighbourhoods across the city.

One part of the festival is The Bay Lights installation on Bay Bridge designed by artist Leo Villareal. They create an incredible display on the north side of the bridge which is visible from far and wide. Although they were originally a temporary art project, they are now a permanent feature of the bridge. The installation comprises 25,000 individually programmed white LED lights which create a never repeating, dazzling display.

November 2020 Bookfact

How far did Ibn Battuta travel?

When people talk about the ‘World’s Most Famous Traveller’, they often think of Marco Polo. But the adventurer Ibn Battuta travelled further than Marco Polo and visited many different countries in the world.

Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier, Morocco in 1304. As a young man, he studied to be a lawyer like his father, but he wanted to see the world too. So, in 1325, he left home and began to travel.

Ibn Battuta journeyed for nearly thirty years. First, he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in the Middle East, then he went to India and worked for the famous Sultan of Delhi there. Next, he sailed east and visited China. After many years, he finally came home to Morocco, but he didn’t stay long. He soon went to Al-Andalus in modern day Spain, and then to Mali in Africa.

In the end, he returned to his home town of Casablanca. He told his travel stories to a young writer called Ibn Juzayy who put them in a book called The Rihla.

Ibn Battuta died in 1369 at the age of 64. People believe that he travelled over 75,000 miles in his lifetime. All these years later, people from across the world can still read the wonderful book of his travels, and through it they can learn more about the world of his time.

October 2020 Bookfact

How can lizards move across hot deserts?

In October, there is International Reptile Awareness Day which celebrates different types of reptiles around the world. Lizards are one of the most common types of reptiles. They are found in many places across the planet, including hot deserts such as the Kalahari Desert in Botswana.

Desert creatures have adapted to life in the desert in different ways .The lizards of the Kalahari can survive the hot temperatures through adaptations to their bodies and their behaviour. This is important as temperatures in the desert can reach 45 degrees Celsius in the dry season.

The lizards can stand on two of their four legs at one time, and when the ground becomes too hot they stand on the other two. If the ground is very hot, they do a type of ‘dance’ changing from one pair of legs to the other. This can help them to survive in the Kalahari and move across the desert in the high temperatures there.

September 2020 Bookfact

How did the Great Fire of London start?

The Great Fire of London started 354 years ago on 2 September. That year, there was a long dry summer, and in the early days of September there was a strong wind blowing across the city.

The centre of London was full of narrow, crowded streets which were lined with old wooden buildings. Many of the buildings were made from wood and had thatched roofs. 

In the late evening of 2 September, a baker called Thomas Farriner was working hard in his shop. He lived and worked in one of the narrow streets in the heart of London called Pudding Lane. Thomas made his bread as usual that evening, but he forgot to do one important thing before he went to bed. He forgot to close the oven door. A small fire began in his bakery, and it soon spread to other houses in Pudding Lane. This was the start of one of the most famous disasters in British history.

August 2020 Bookfact

Is Mulan a true story?

Disney has made an exciting live-action movie of Mulan. It is a remake of their 1998 animated film of the same name. The new Mulan movie was filmed in New Zealand and China and many people hope to watch it when it is released. Mulan has been the subject of a large number of TV shows, cartoons and films over the years, but this is the most expensive version so far at over 200 million dollars.

In the story, the young Mulan famously dresses as a man to go to war. She takes the place of her father because he is too old and ill to join the Chinese Emperor’s army. Many people today admire this young woman who takes on a different role to the other women around her. 

Although the story of Mulan is popular today, it is in fact very ancient. The earliest written text of the story is in a long poem which came from the Northern Dynasties in China (386-581 AD). In just over three hundred words, the poem tells the story of this brave young soldier.

Everyone always wants to know if the story is true. Over the years, historians have never found any things to show that Mulan truly existed. So the answer is that we don’t know if she was a real person or not. Of course, this won’t stop us  enjoying the movie when it comes out!  

July 2020 Bookfact

Which country in the world eats the most chocolate?

The seventh of July is a special international day which celebrates something that is popular in many different countries around the world. What is it? – Chocolate!

Where does chocolate come from? It’s made from the beans of the cacao tree. These trees first grew in the big rainforests of South and Central America. People now grow cacao trees in over twenty different countries including Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Ivory Coast in Africa. More than a third of the world’s cacao beans come from the Ivory Coast.

Celebrating World Chocolate Day usually involves eating or drinking chocolate. Sounds great, doesn’t it? For example, last year a famous hotel in Sydney, Australia held a chocolate masterclass. Visitors could spend the day learning how to make and decorate beautiful chocolates. This masterclass was followed by a chocolate high tea with amazing chocolate cakes and pastries.

Chocolate is obviously popular in Australia, but which country eats the most? The answer is Switzerland. In 2017, Swiss people ate 8.8kg of chocolate – that’s over 40 200g chocolate bars. Austria came second with the consumption of 8.1 kg of chocolate, Germany third with 7.9kg and the UK fifth with 7.6kg.

June 2020 Bookfact

According to legend, who built Stonehenge?

The month of June sees the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year. It’s famously celebrated at Stonehenge in the UK on 21 June.  Thousands of people usually meet to watch the sunrise here, but this year the site is closed to visitors because of Coronavirus. 

But don’t worry, you can still watch the sunrise from around the world, thanks to the English Heritage live streaming of the event. If you sign up to their Facebook event Summer Solstice 2020 Live from Stonehenge you’ll get information about the live streaming. They will broadcast the sunset on Saturday 20th June and the sunrise on Sunday 21st June. Sunset is at 21:26 BST (20:26 GMT) and sunrise is at 04:52 BST (03:52 GMT). You can also get a live tour of Stonehenge at any time through the Stonehenge Skyscape.

In legends, Stonehenge was created by the magician Merlin, of King Arthur fame. He magically transported the huge stones across the sea from Ireland and put them on Salisbury Plain in the West of England. However, experts now think that the larger stones were transported from 20 miles away and the smaller stones from 150 miles away between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC.

May 2020 Bookfact

What can you see in the Statue of Liberty museum?

This month, we say ‘Happy First Birthday’ to the new Statue of Liberty Museum. It was opened on 16 May 2019 on Liberty Island in New York Harbour. 

The Statue of Liberty was very important for travellers arriving in the US by ship during the late 19th and early 20th century. Immigrants from Europe, like Rosalia and her family in Ellis Island: Rosalia’s Story, sailed past the statue after their long and dangerous voyage across the Atlantic. It was a symbol of welcome and hope for the millions of people who came through Ellis Island – the immigration centre in New York Harbour. 

The statue shows Libertas – a Roman goddess who holds a torch in her right hand and a tablet in her left hand. On the tablet, there’s the date of the US Declaration of Independence of 4 July 1776.

The new museum on Liberty Island celebrates the history of the 93 metre high statue which was created by the French artist Frédéric August Bartholdi. It was a gift from the French people to the American people and was transported in pieces by ship from France in 1885. Visitors to the museum can see the original huge torch, and watch an amazing aerial view of the real statue in a special movie theatre.