Monday, August 24, 2015

Horrible Histories, Humor and Kids

by Michelle Ule

Our family first met the Horrible Histories books while touring a museum in New Zealand.
My daughter had read all her books on the plane by the time we arrived and needed something for the rest of the trip!

Down in the basement bookstore, we found British books we’d never heard of before: Horrible Histories.

That day we purchased The Rotten Romans and Awful Egyptians. Eventually we Groovy Greeks, and The Blitzed Brits.

On that trip, the fifth grader was enthralled, but so was the high school sophomore and both college kids. We parents eventually chuckled our way through them.

Our family loves history and these whimsical, but true, books provide intriguing facts, simple drawings and a slightly askew way of looking at historical events. A painless way to learn cultural and historical insights.

For example, these quotes:
“Marcellinus said “a whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a aul if he called for his wife to help him. Swelling her neck, gnashing her teeth and

swinging her white arms of enormous size she begins to strike blows mixed with kicks as if they were missiles sent from the string of a catapult.” (Rotten Romans)

“Helpful hints for the blackout:
1. In the countryside some dark-coloured cows had white lines painted on them in case they wandered in the road.
2.Men were advised to let their white shirt tails hang out as they walked along the blacked-out roads.” (The Blitzed Brits)

“Small children were often sent into toilet pits because they could fit down the narrow pipes. They were expected to clean them . . . and you complain when your parents ask you to clean their car?” (Gruesome Guides: London)
Conceived and written by actor and children’s playwright Terry Deary, the books brought a fresh approach when the first was published in 1993:

History can be horrible. Horribly hard to learn. The trouble is it keeps on changing ... In history a 'fact' is sometimes not a fact at all. Really it's just someone's 'opinion'. And opinions can be different for different people ... Teachers will try to tell you there are 'right' and 'wrong' answers even if there aren't.”
The books have a tinge of the subversive about them, with barbed humor and cartoonish drawings. Aimed at the “reluctant reader,” they’ve sold 25 million copies in 30 languages!

According to Wikipedia, 
while the books pass their information off as facts, much “is debatably, exciting myths and legends. The books, for example, claim that Shakespeare invented the evil actions he attributed to Richard III and present Caligula as being insane.”

Starting with Angry Aztecs and wending through history to Woeful Second World War, Horrible Histories provides an opportunity for kids of all ages to learn and appreciate the interesting, ironic and horrifying ways that life has been lived on the continents and during dramatic eras of the world.

Horrible, yes, but really fun.

Horrible Histories teach kids history painlessly Click to Tweet
A humorous way for kids to learn some horrible facts. Click to Tweet

Michelle Ule writes the fourth Monday of the month at NovelPastimes and twice a week on her website: Her latest book is a rerelease of A Pioneer Christmas Collection out on September 1.

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