Scholastic publishes a series of books related to history whose titles all begin You Wouldn’t Want to…. The series also has books on topics other than history, such as science, math, and technology, but I'm focusing only on the history titles in this review.
The books are written by various authors. Most are illustrated by David Antram, although some are illustrated in a very similar style by Mark Bergin. I started to list all of the titles and discovered that there are far more books in this series than I have space to list. Here’s just a sampling so you can see the broad scope of the history topics the series addresses.
You Wouldn’t Want to…
- Be a Mammoth Hunter!
- Be a Pyramid Builder!
- Be an Assyrian Soldier!
- Be a Slave in Ancient Greece!
- Be in Alexander the Great’s Army!
- Be a Roman Soldier!
- Live in Pompeii!
- Be an Incan Mummy!
- Be a Viking Explorer!
- Be a Medieval Knight!
- Be a Crusader!
- Explore with Marco Polo!
- Explore with Captain Cook!
- Work on the Great Wall of China!
- Be Mary, Queen of Scots!
- Be a Shakespearean Actor!
- Sail on the Mayflower!
- Explore with Lewis and Clark!
- Be a Civil War Soldier!
- Be on the First Flying Machine!
- Be a Polar Explorer!
- Be a Suffragist!
- Be in the Trenches in World War One!
- Be in the First Submarine!
- Be a World War II Pilot!
- Be on Apollo 13!
These books manage to convey a significant amount of information about actual historical events. They are written in the second person to draw in readers as if they were participants in the adventure. For example, “Don’t start your journey too early in the year….” (You Wouldn’t Want to Be an American Pioneer!, p. 11).
The text is interesting, but the illustrations are what make these books really outstanding. They are drawn in a comical style that still manages to accurately illustrate historical realities. Each story focuses primarily on perils, hardships, cultural discomforts, personality clashes, and other discomfiting aspects of important historical events. The illustrations and the text sometimes soften the historical realities to keep them at a level that is appropriate for children. For instance, You Wouldn’t Want to Be an American Pioneer! tells about the dangers to the animals that pulled covered wagons. It shows cartoon images of dehydrated horses pulling an overloaded wagon, but no dead animals. Sidebar pictures on these two pages illustrate particular problems that needed to be avoided, and a “handy hint” instructs readers: “To save your animals, lighten their load. Throw all non-essential items out of your wagon.” The small drawing with the handy hint shows them throwing grandpa out of the wagon. As in this example, the books are sometimes irreverent, but such instances help make important points.
Four of these books are available to read online for free. They are Polar Explorer, Egyptian Mummy, Roman Gladiator, and Whaling Ship.
The content of these books is ideal as part of your curriculum for about grades three through six, but younger and older children will enjoy them too. And these are the sort of books that adults will get a kick out of reading as well.
Each book is only 32 pages long, so they should serve well as supplements for history or as part of a real-books approach. I think they work especially well as a way to introduce a new topic since they provide children with strong visual images and memorable text to which they will be able to connect related information.
Children will love to look at the colorful, entertaining illustrations, and they’ll probably want to read the books to find out what’s going on in those pictures. Or you can have the family read these books aloud together—but make sure everyone can see the pictures.