History for kids—violent, bloody and true

 The Cayman Islands, like much of the world, has a big problem. Too many young people just don’t appreciate world history. Ask ten kids in George Town today who Winston Churchill, Shaka Zulu or Pericles were and you are likely to walk away weeping for the future. While young people themselves are ultimately responsible for what is and is not in their minds, parents and teachers have a lot to answer for as well.  History should sell itself. Present it accurately and honestly and kids will be hooked. Yes, pop culture’s endless stream of junk food for the mind is a tough competitor but the human past can fare well. After all, history has way more sex and violence than MTV and HBO.
      One of the best books on the market today to shock kids—especially demented little boys who love the rough stuff—into realizing that history is definitely not boring is Terry Deary’s “The Horrible History of the World” (Scholastic Children’s Books). This gem of a book is 93 pages of pure madness and mayhem, and it’s all true. Deary surveys some of the creepiest and blood-chilling events of the last few several thousand years. Written with a light-hearted tone and perfectly illustrated by brilliant cartoonist Martin Brown, the book somehow avoids feeling too negative for children and it doesn’t cross the line into glorifying violence. That’s a subjective judgement, of course, but I feel 99 percent of readers will close the book not thinking wars, religious sacrifices and executions are cool but that something is seriously wrong with our species and we need to figure out how to be more peaceful to one another. Still, parents should be warned that there are some illustrations and stories that are not typical children’s book fodder. For example, there is a prehistoric human on page 7 shown holding up a human brain. An adjacent diary entry describes the day’s cannibalistic feast. I know that sounds really bad but, trust me, Deary’s writing, the creative layout, and Brown’s humorous art somehow make it all okay.
      The greatest value of “The Horrible History of the World” is how it can serve as both inspiration for deep appreciation of history and a launch point to further study. Few kids, for example, will be able to read the page about “Horrible Health”, a sampling medieval “cures,” without wanting to know more about life during that period.
      Let’s face it, history has been horrible. If we want our children to know their past then maybe it’s time to start using some of that horror as a selling point. If you agree, then you can’t go wrong with Deary’s and Brown’s funny and addictive “The Horrible History of the World”.