O Most Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph

O Most Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph
In you we place all our faith and all our trust.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Horrible Books Review

+ JMJ +

Some Moms recently asked me some questions about these books after I sent out an e-mail, sharing that the books (which aren't easy to find here in the U.S.) could be purchased for less at the Book Depository with their extra 10% discount offer going on till mid-May.  This was my reply:

I think that these books are such great fun!  They add to the enjoyment of learning History, Geography, Science, etc. But I only allow my teen, SLES-D, to read the books on his own and not my middle schooler, Muddee, who just turned 12. SLES-D, whose favorite subject is History, is old enough to handle some of the content -- but we have lots of discussions to make sure he knows right from wrong, based on our faith / morals.

As for Muddee, because of the gore and the mature subject matter that comes with History, I read the books aloud to him instead, so I can skip the intense / gruesome parts that may scare him. They're definitely not for the faint of heart! They're filled with gross and grisly bits that are tongue-in-cheek, but they offer a wealth of historical detail that teaches and, at the same time, entertains kids and adults alike with their crazy, outrageous humor.

horrible histories terry deary Image 2

As one reviewer said, "They offer realism cloaked hilariously in jokes." Because they're engaging, educational and funny, I thought they were worth reading aloud selectively to Muddee. How often do we come across something that teaches and makes us laugh?  

Just to be clear, though -- I do not condone violence, nor do I think children should be exposed to graphic elements too early. The books actually emphasize that we all run the dangers of being like our wicked past, and should learn from our histories to be better people. The "Villains' Handbook," for example, lists useful villain tips, and one of them is -- why you really don't want to be one. 

Anyway, the books serve as fun supplementals for "informal" reading rather than primary History texts. It's great trivia for those who already have a basic knowledge of the historical period. Some parents prefer to have their kids read the books AFTER they understand the basics of the era. But since they're fun, quick reads, others like to use them for introducing children to history.  

Horrible Histories, Georgian Woman

Also, Nancy Silverrod of the San Francisco Public Library wrote (paraphrased): Because of the limited number of pages, the scope is cursory, and therefore not useful for reports. But readers will still be fascinated ... there is enough here to whet their appetite for more research. A great choice for reluctant readers.  

From another reviewer: "Are the books chock-full of historical facts guaranteed to allow someone to walk away, thinking they know everything about the Middle Ages, Greece, Rome, France, or any of Deary's other topics? No, of course not. Are the books a wonderfully entertaining (and illustrated!) way of addressing what can admittedly be a bit of a dry topic? Of course! ... And the better you know the original, the more funny and entertaining the condensed versions are."

Horrible Histories, Dick Turpin, "The Spurious Highwayman" in 1730s England. His exploits were romanticized, following his execution in York for horse theft. (Wikipedia)

Target Audience:

BTW, don't let the juvenile presentation of the book deter you from reading it either. It's really a fun read for teens and adults alike. Our whole family enjoys it (including my dear husband)! In fact, when a few "Horrible Histories" CDs, that I had ordered, arrived; we played them in the car (forwarding the gory parts, of course), and my husband thought it was hysterical.

Because they're written at the middle school level, many people recommend them for 9-15 year olds. But in my opinion, the content is too mature for middle schoolers and younger kids. One 8 year-old boy found the jokes and facts a little intense / scary. Wars, battles, hygiene practices, etc., are all discussed. So for independent reading, they're definitely for older kids / teens. They're not for sensitive children -- unless you read the books aloud to them and skip all the gore, which as I've said, has worked well for us.

Historical Accuracy:

The comments below (some conflict, though) are from Amazon reviewers, who've specialized in History (as historians, teachers or History major graduates): 

1. "The title of the series clearly states that this series is NOT balanced nor is it meant to be. These are not text books, nor are they edited, censured, generic, whitewashes of history. Obviously written for adolescent entertainment, the learning aspect is strictly an added bonus."

2. Liberal amounts of humor and "grossness" hold the interest of late-elementary to middle school aged kids - especially boys. The books are, however, very accurate and up to date on facts.

3. The series is a terrific launching point for introducing a time in history or supplementing history curriculum with an "out-of-the-box" look at a time period or group.

4. If you are taking your history with a grain of salt, this is a good book for a few laughs.

5. A few things seem to be more legend than facts. But still, these do contain tons of great information presented in a way that kids really enjoy.

horrible histories

The TV version is a huge hit in Britain!

Watch out for these:

In some places (not in all), the series is politically correct, evolutionist and shows an anti-Christian bent -- another reason why I prefer to read them aloud selectively to my boys. (My teen, who isn't into the Science series -- just his personal preference -- doesn't always read every one of them on his own.) I help them watch out for inappropriate material, and we discuss them together. I do think it's better that they discuss controversial matters with me or hubby than with inexperienced peers and/or adults, who may lack moral / religious formation. 

"The Stormin' Normans," for example, has some passive-aggressive comments about Christianity. Deary, the author, is very candid about the atrocities the Church committed when he's writing history. Funny thing, though, is that he uses the notations B.C. and A.D., instead of B.C.E. and C.E. for his dates.

Murderous Maths:

We only have 2 books from this series -- Awesome Arithmetricks, and I can't remember the name of the other one .... It's exactly what it says on the front cover -- "maths with the laughs added in." Nice thing about it (at least, with THIS book) is that it's less gory than Horrible Histories, Horrible Geography and Horrible Science because it just goes about explaining essential arithmetic in a lively way, with cartoon illustrations and all.

Hope this has helped some!

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