Written by Terry Dearly
Reviewed by Colin Kerr
Finding books for boys who would rather play video games is no easy matter, but it is a task that befalls many parents today.
There is a margin, I believe, between rude and crude and worldly, on the one hand, and messy and fun, on the other. It’s okay to laugh at evil; it’s not okay when it’s made to look other than it is.
Would I that the world were one for little boys to play in fields of peonies, and sing a gay song, fa-la-la-la…No, I would not. Boys are boys, and should not be something other than that. But that doesn’t mean they should exalt in bathroom humor, either.
So what about the Horrible Histories series by Scholastic? There are about 21 books in the series, targeting all the major cultures, especially the more primitive ones whose excesses we know about. They are written in a larger print with lots of black and white illustrations, targeted to kids, because, as we all know, “history is far too horrible for adults to learn about.” (p. 5)
Vicious Vikings deals with Viking history and myth – anything outrageous and delightful to the ears of a boy. It tells of gruesome deaths, but in a ‘fun’ way, if you can believe that. For instance, the mood is lightened by describing a defeat in battle as a ‘drubbing,’ and the victorious young prince as ‘Alf’ – that is to say, the future King Alfred the Great. (pp. 40-1) It presents some of the stories as if from newspapers and some as comics. There are lots of quizzes, a few recipes, and such like.
It tells you how to build a longboat (pp. 32-3), gives samples of Viking proverbs (pp. 48-9), tells what some of the Viking names mean (p. 57), and talks about nicknames (pp. 58-9), Viking letters (p. 62), how to make Viking soap (p. 63), and so on.
It is meant to entertain and to teach, and I would say that it does a superb job of that. It falls far short of what parents might worry about – stories of raping and pillaging; in this case, we have the pillaging without the raping. There is no sexual content in the book whatsoever.
I know how kids learn – plain anecdotes will stick, theory and endless detail will not. So much the more so for ADHD, video-game boys. This book, this series, will reach them. Any argument that can be made for the positive effects of teaching kids history will justify reading this book. I will definitely read some of the other books in the series – perhaps the Cult-Throat Celts next! These are perfect for a boy around 10 years of age. But not my five-year-old.