Book Reviews

Book Review: The Horrible Histories Series

charles ii
Charles II: the king who brought back partying

We’ve reviewed a book from the Horrible Histories series before, Frightful First War for Remembrance Day, but with the Horrible Histories show at the Theatre Royal next week (Wednesday 22nd April-Sunday 26th April), we’re going to talk about some of our favourite books from the series!

For more than 20 years, Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories series has been making history fun. The recent Horrible Histories CBBC sketch series has also become popular, focusing on the gory, silly and gross bits of history rather than lots of boring facts and dates. The books are filled with cartoons, puns, timelines and quizzes.

savage stone ageGoing right back to when history didn’t exist yet (called pre-historic because we don’t have any written records from the time), The Savage Stone Age (BOOK ZONE 930.12) features a bit of history you don’t hear much about, mainly because we don’t have as much archaeological evidence about it as we do about other periods of history. The Savage Stone Age explains how humans evolved into what we are today, suggests some (not so nice) recipes for Stone-Age food and talks about the dangerous and silly things archaeologists did or assumed about the artefacts they found from the Stone Age.

vicious vikingsThe Vicious Vikings (BOOK ZONE 948.02) is, as you might have guessed, about the Vikings. While they’re mostly known for destroying lots of monasteries and being terrifying fighters, The Vicious Vikings also talks about some fascinating (and weird) stories from their mythology and their culture. If you want to learn to write in runes, or tell Viking stories about giants, gods and monsters, this is a funny look at people who had a big hand in shaping Britain.

vile victoriansThe Vile Victorians (BOOK ZONE 941.081) covers more modern history, from poor people in the workhouse to the manners of the upper classes. If you think school is bad now, you should hear some of the rules and punishments they had in Victorian schools! The Victorians also loved ghost stories, and The Vile Victorians is filled with legendary monsters like Spring-Heeled Jack, the Monster of the Mine and Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

the usaTry The USA (BOOK ZONE 973) for the history of America, which we often don’t learn as much about in history lessons in Britain.  The USA talks about the settlement of America (and the persecution of the Native American tribes), the War of Independence, the Civil War, the Wild West, Prohibition (where alcohol was banned in the 1920’s) and the Civil Rights Movement. For anyone who wants to learn about one of the most powerful countries in the world, The USA is a great introduction.

wicked wordsWicked Words (BOOK ZONE 420.9) is probably my favourite Horrible Histories book (which is saying a lot!), and is all about the history of language, which might sound a bit boring until you realise that the history of language is also the history of swearing, terrible poetry and words that sound hilarious to modern readers. It also talks about how powerful words can be, how the printing press changed the world and the history of English literature. Try some of Shakespeare’s insults out, and learn about why Americans spell some words differently.

cruel kings and mean queenCruel Kings and Mean Queens (BOOK ZONE 941.00922) is a hilarious look at the people who have ruled Britain over the centuries, from the earliest kings we know about to Queen Elizabeth II. I can guarantee there are some stories about our weird monarchs in here that you won’t have heard before. Cruel Kings and Mean Queens does a great job of turning a list of names and dates into real people. There are also lists of anecdotes about monarchs’ hair, pets and even the fate of their bodies after they died!

The Horrible Histories series is often shocking, disgusting and silly, but it is never, ever boring. If you’ve always thought history wasn’t for you, give these books a go and you’re guaranteed to find something interesting.

Check out the official website for Horrible Histories, which is filled with games, activities and fun facts, and the CBBC website for the TV series which has clips from the show and some of their hilarious songs.

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