History is pretty fascinating in general, we think, but how do you get a bunch of bored kids to pay attention to it?
Enter Terry Deary, whose Horrible Histories series was a big hit in the 1990s. We doth like his work, we do.
The Horrible Histories Books
There are over 60 titles in the franchise now, but the very first ones launched back in 1993—The Terrible Tudors and The Awesome Egyptians.
The success of these books (over 25 million shifted in over 30 languages) has made author Terry Deary one of the UK’s most successful writers.
And it’s a great little premise. Take the often gruesome nature of history and make it fun and accessible.
Here’s the cover from the look into France. Martin Brown takes care of most of the cartoons across the series.
Deary was a theatre director for much of his career, until the first Horrible Histories works took off in the mid-1990s.
However, he’d already had some 50 books for kids published by the time his publisher offered him a “history joke book” projects.
He didn’t know much about history, but accepted the project all the same.
That became The Horrible Histories. We were at primary school at the time as dumb kids. We particularly remember this series and enjoying it a lot. Good fun, eh?
The knack of taking something a bit macabre and revelling in tongue-in-cheek humour/education is a mighty fine thing to behold.
And so we have the likes of The Rotten Romans, The Terrible Tudors, Barmy Britain etc. Here’s Deary having a think about the black death.
Of the educational nature of his books, Deary had this to say:
"If I had it my way, I wouldn't have schools at all. They don't educate, they just keep kids off the streets. But my books educate because they prepare kids for life ... It's outrageous, why don't we start telling children the truth about history? I hope my books do just that."
Frankly, if you can make education good fun then you’re a winner in our world.
The books don’t skimp back on the gory details, instead taking that macabre delight in the dodgier side of human nature (beheadings, war, mayhem etc.).
And if you’re a parent with wee ones around, we can highly recommend anything from this series. It’s a nasty business, this history stuff, but someone has to report on it.
So why not do so in a way that’ll make kids stop, think, understand, and enjoy? That’s what this series masters perfectly. Innit.
Horrible Histories Adaptations
In 2019, there was a big old movie thing adapting The Rotten Romans work. Reviews weren’t great for it, but we guess it’ll be a laugh if you’re a 10 year old.
Films? Pah! There are also audio books and a popular CBBC show for kids. Here’s one actor enjoying himself far too much.
Mate… work isn’t supposed to be fun, you know? Take less enjoyment from your day job!
All of which proves that, lurking behind the scenes silently, The Horrible Histories continue to be a huge hit.
Good. Long may this daft reign continue.