The Beastly Best Bits (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary

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The Beastly Best Bits (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary

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Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Margaret Young
Reviewed by Margaret Young
Summary: Horrible Histories: The Beastly Best Bits is collection of the best bits - or perhaps more accurately the worst bits from 20 years of Horrible Histories. Like all the others in the series it really does make a point of focusing on the gruesome, gory and out right disgusting bits of history. But, along with all the gore, grime and giggling, this book does actually teach children quite a bit about history.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 80 Date: March 2013
Publisher: Scholastic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1407136103

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Horrible Histories: The Beastly Best Bits begins with a brief introduction by a black clad executioner who looks like he has stepped of the pages of the Horrible Histories Terrifying Tudors book. Our friendly executioner will be our guide for the rest of the book, pointing out some of the most gruesome moments in history. After some classic gallows humour and a brief mention of Vlad the Impaler we begin the tour with ancient Mesopotamia. The book includes the Assyrians, Sumerians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Vikings, Normans, Samurai Aztecs, Incas, Irish and Americans. It also covers several different periods of English history, gangsters in The Roaring 20's, the first and second world wars, and a quick section on Ruthless Rulers.

As this the title implies, this book is not new and original text, instead it is the best bits taken from the Horrible Histories series. So if you already own the entire collection, you would not really be getting anything new with this book. We do own some of the books, so in a sense this is repeating information we already have. However, even if I were lucky enough to own the whole set, I would still be very glad to own this book for several reasons.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the fact that, apart from the introduction by the executioner, and the brief section on Ruthless Rulers, this is in chronological order. It gives the children a real grasp of how history progressed. The book becomes a time line of sorts. Although the information on each subject is limited, this does give children a very broad base of knowledge of world history, covering a great many topics. It is a sort of taster for many of these subjects, and it has encouraged my sons to ask for more books to learn more about the topics which most interested them.

I like the fact that this book was easy enough for my 4 year old (who had never heard of many of the topics) to understand, was both educational and entertaining to my 8 year old, and was still a joy for me to read as an adult with a long standing interest in history. I've read some comments saying it is a disgrace that adults today have so little knowledge of history as to be able to learn from a children's series. I don't see it this way at all. I have always enjoyed history, and probably read far more history than the average adult, but few adults read extensively on every period in history. I think it is wonderful that a book which so clearly makes history accessible to children can still offer something to adults as well, and I feel no shame at all in saying that I have yet to read a Horrible Histories which I did not learn anything from.

Another thing we really loved about this book was the history of Horrible Histories themselves, There is a letter from the author and the illustrator at the beginning of the book, as well as a two page spread with several illustrations from the series which give children an idea of how the books were created - and perhaps the inspiration to start their own horrible little books. My sons especially enjoyed this, as well as the sections on gangsters, the world wars, and everything with pee.

What I like most about this book is simply the fact that it makes my sons enjoy reading. This is a beautifully presented volume, with plenty of illustrations and jokes, which my boys couldn't wait to enjoy. Scholastic has taken some of the most interesting parts from a very large number of books and created a book which is very easy to read, and highly engaging, even for younger children. Deary has a real talent for speaking to children at their own level. He never comes across as condescending or talking down to children, but seems to have retained the ability to see the world through a child's eyes and to bring history to life in a way that will engage the most reluctant reader. He seems to have recognised long before his peers did that boys have very different tastes in reading material, and created books that perfectly filled this niche, well before any one else had noticed that it existed. Terry Deary is often given credit with with encouraging children to study history. I do not wish to belittle this accomplishment - it is very nice. But what he should really be given credit for, and I feel is of far more importance, is encouraging boys to read. He has shown so many boys that reading is fun, and I believe he is responsible for a large number of boys being literate today. Children who read for pleasure become better readers, and children who become better readers read more for pleasure. Deary made reading into a pleasurable experience and has started many children off on the road to complete literacy.

As much as I love this book though, it is not for every child. This book is perfect for children with a slightly wicked sense of wit, to match the very wicked wit of the author, who enjoy the darker side of history. It has its fair share of toilet humour, much to the delight of the younger reader, and black humour for the older reader. But in between these jokes, there are some truly horrible scenes. This book is full of violence and bloodshed, and I can see where it might frighten some young children. It includes slavery, executions, starvation and some very extreme cruelty to animals with the various baiting sports, including mention of horse and pony baiting. If it were not for the constant jokes, this book would have been a very dark and depressing story.

I was dissapointed that the Savage Stone age was left out - we particularly liked this book, but I recognise that with over 60 books, the publishers could not include every one. We also quite missed the Rat, who has been unfairly excluded from this book in our opinion. I feel there are few bits that might offend the overly sensitive - I actually think Deary likes offending people at times. I am not at all sure how many Americans would react to the title of one chapter Useless USA. Finally, under negative aspects for the book there were two minor typos. In one case it appears that the last word has been cut off a sentence. In the next case the text reads. When the police when to her house. I have not rated down for these, as they did not affect our overall enjoyment of the book, and I feel the overall quality of this book is so high that I am willing to overlook two very minor errors. If you have never read Horrible Histories, this is the perfect book to get started and see which periods might interest you most. If however, you are a long time fan of this series - this book is equally enjoyable and an absolute must have for any Horrible Histories collector.

We can also recommend a couply of other Horrible Histories for you to enjoy - Terrifying Tudors and Awful Egyptians.

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