Our Top Ten Best Selling History Books for Children
1. Celts (Usborne Beginners) by Leonie Pratt
2. Who Were the Romans? (Starting Point History)by Phil Roxbee Cox#
3. Boudicca (Famous People, Famous Lives)by Emma Fische
4. Romans (Usborne Beginners) by Katie Daynes
5. Roman Things to Make and Do by Leonie Pratt
6. The Captive Celt by Terry Deary
7. Celts (Britain Through the Ages) by Hazel Mary Martell
8. The Romans Activity Book (British Museum Activity Books) by John Reeve & Patricia Vanaqs
9. Cuda of the Celts by Susan Ashe
10. Boudica_Brilliant_Brits by Richard Brassey
Find reviews of our most popular children's history books.
History Book Reviews
Scroll down to read our top ten history book reviews for kids.
Celts (Usborne Beginners) by Leonie Pratt
This is a very refreshing book aimed at the younger reader up to about 7 years old. The Celts is beautifully produced by Usbourne and English Heritage. I recommend the hard back version as it will get plenty of use.
What undoubtedly makes this book appeal to the younger reader is the accompaniment of excellent cartoon style pictures. These really capture the colourful nature of Celtic life and warfare and make it accessible to young minds. The illustrations kept the attention of my four year old son and he asked lots of questions about them which led to us reading the text. It is packed with simple statements, about the Celts, which a beginner needs to know.
The format is simple and uncluttered and the photographs which are included are well chosen and more obvious because they only appear on every other page.
I think that this is the sort of book which will turn a younger child onto history. This is the most popular book sold on this website and it is my son's favourite too!
This book contains some fascinating information and simple illustrations for children. Each topic covers 2 – 4 pages and is composed of a series of questions which are answered in a paragraph or two each. The topics mainly cover every day living including: What did they look like? What were their houses like? Where did they go shopping? etc It has a more expansive section on Roman Gods and that includes a nice myth about the Gods and how we come to have the different seasons. There is also a short section on the Roman Army.
The best way to illustrate the style of the book is to give you an example of the content. Q. ‘Were there ever traffic jams?’ A. ‘Believe it or not the answer is yes. In the city of Rome itself, there were hundreds of stores and houses needing goods. These had to be delivered in carts, and the roads often became blocked. Later, to stop this, horse-drawn carts and chariots were not allowed into the city during the day.
The book is best suited for ages 6-8 years. This is our best selling book about the Romans over the past few years.
Boudicca (Famous People, Famous Lives) by Emma Fischel
This book provides a good introduction for younger children (K.S.2) learning about Boudicca and her tribes revolt against the Romans. It is one of the best selling books on our website.
The text is at the right level for children up to about eight years old. The information presented in the book is enough to tell the basic story. It's told in the style of a story and the author puts words in the mouths of Boudicca, her subjects and the Romans. The Roman writer Tacitus told the story in a similar style. This does add drama to the story but as these speeches are in quotation marks please explain to children reading this book that we don't really know what she actually said.
There are appropriate illustrations on every page. These are in the style of the front cover but they are all line drawings with no colour. Each page has the equivalent of a paragraph of text and the book has 48 pages.
Romans (Usbourne Beginners) By Katie Daynes
This book provides a good overview of Roman life for children beginning their study of the Romans. It is accessible to the young reader with vivid cartoon illustrations and interesting simple sentences. To provide you with a flavour here is an excerpt which is interspersed after each sentence by three absorbing panoramic cartoons:
'The streets of Rome were often packed with people. Vehicles were only allowed at night. At dawn, street cleaners swept the streets and sellers arrived with their goods. By noon, the streets were very busy. Rich Romans were carried in boxes called litters.
At night, the vehicles arrived. People carried torches because there were no street lights.'
On the accompanying page:
'This mosaic shows musicians playing to people on the street.'
This photo is of a real mosaic showing what looks to be a family of streets entertainers playing the pipes, tambourine and symbols.
Every other page includes a photograph of Roman remains, artefacts or a re-enactment scene to provide a realistic dimension.
My 6 year old son who is a competent reader can read this book on his own and tends to pick up the book and read a few sections at a time. There is a short glossary at the back of the book and links to some websites suitable for this age group (5-7 years).
The contents of the book include: People of Rome, At home, On the streets, What to wear, Going shopping, farming, banquets, at the baths, gods and goddesses, building power, at school, in the army, games and races.
Roman Things to Make and Do (Usborne Activities) by Leonie Pratt
One of the strengths of this title are the number of items of costume and apparel that can be made for children to dress up in. These include: Simple instructions to make a toga, some nifty 3D Roman swords, curved Roman Army shields, an Emperor’s wreath, cuffs and bangles, an arty actor’s mask and even money bags and a scroll. These step by step instructions for children could come in very useful as craft lessons and in addition supply what you need for performing a play or perhaps a Roman feast.
I also like the paper chain of legionary soldiers. Educators could use these to illustrate how there were 80 soldiers in a century (although it probably began as a 100). The racing chariot painting activity provides drawing instructions showing how to build the painting up through the drawing stages. There is a City Collage which could be good if combined with a bit of research using Simon Biesty’s book - ‘Rome in Cross Section’. There are printed mosaics which again provide a good activity if some study of original mosaics is included.
The firing catapult is not only good for History and craft but also Science outcomes. There are gladiator figures to be made into puppets and a pop-up Roman God card which my children enjoyed making. They also enjoyed using their fingers to paint the faces of senators who are pictured sat in their stalls with their faces drawn individually. I have not let the kids loose on the A3 page of stickers yet. For classroom displays and activities or hours of useful fun learning this book is crammed with great things to make and do.
14/11/09 Updated 13/09/11
The Captive Celt (Roman Tales) by Terry Deary
The story of the British resistance leader Caratacus is one of the most interesting stories relating to ancient Britain and the Romans. It is good to see Caratacus getting some exposure as he has been a bit neglected in recent times as one of the great British heroes. The central plot of this historically based story is the interaction of a fictitious Celtic boy called Deri and the historical figure, Caratacus. The story is well constructed by Terry Deary but the most engaging and exiting parts of the story are when it is closest to the events described by Tacitus who was the historian who recorded this story for posterity.
There are shades of Horrible Histories when the druids deeds are described with some gruesome detail but the humour is kept well under control and does not distract from the story. Yes, there are funny elements in this book but the overriding focus of the book is telling an engaging and exiting story. The chapters are short and the book is aimed at children building reading confidence.
Celts (Britain Through the Ages)By Hazel Mary Martel
The Celts focuses on Celtic life in Iron Age Britain. However, it does stress the connectedness of the Celts here with Celtic Europe and include a map of the Celtic tribes of Europe. It also has a simple time line of the Celts in Britain.
The book is divided into themes through which Hazel Mary Martel informs her young readers about most of the things which they need to know in order to gain a solid understanding of this great culture. The themes include: Everyday Life, Arts and Crafts, Trade and Transport, Religion, Attack and Defence, The Roman Conquest & Roman Britain. It also includes Myths and Legends and Celtic Survival.
The illustrations and photographs support the text well.
I am quite a fan of Hazel Mary Martel's work as it is historically accurate and her narrative is clear. Most pages also include fact boxes of interesting information or origins of Celtic and Roman words which have survived in some form. The quotations from classical sources also stand out.
The Romans Activity Book (British Museum Activity Books)By John Reeve, Patricia Vanags
This has long been a popular book with teachers. The book is made up of black and white activity sheets which could be photocopied.
Activities include: labelling modern country names against some Latin place names, matching deeds done by the Roman Emperors against the correct man and locating famous Roman places on a map of Roman Britain. Other activities include buying items from a Roman market using Roman coinage and drawing the centre of a mosaic.
Perhaps one of the best activities is the idea of making a sequence of Roman writing tablets from cardboard and writing a letter like those found at Vindolanda (a fort located at Hadrian's wall).
History book review by Nigel Cross 27/01/08
Cuda of the Celts (Yellow Go Bananas) By Susan Ashe
From the title and look of this book I was half expecting it to be historically inaccurate. However, as it sells quite well on this site I thought that I had better try it out. I was surprised that the story was well worked to include lots of information about the interaction of the Celts and the Romans in Britain; the initial conflict and later assimilation of their cultures.
This fictional story centres on a Celtic girl called Cuda and her interaction with a Roman boy called Marcus. It is the time of Boudicca's Revolt and Cuda's tribe sack Camulodunum. Marcus' family are killed when the town is sacked. The way that this is dealt with in the book is interesting. Cuda asks her father whether children were killed by the Celts and her father says that he would never kill a child. But then we learn from Marcus that his sister and mother are both killed by the Celts and it is obvious that they will kill Marcus too, if they catch him.
It has a Hollywood ending and Cuda ends up living in luxury with the Romans. Again, this makes for an interesting discussion.
The short fact and activity sections at the back of the book are of limited value.
Boudica Brilliant Brits by Richard Brassey
This is the most engaging book on Boudica for children studying at Key Stage 2. The painted cartoon style drawings are witty and they paint a vivid story which will stay with the reader. The look of terror on Boudica's face as her army is routed is one example. Whilst there is artistic licence in the illustrations the text accurately informs the children about what is currently understood about Boudica and the rebellion against Rome. It also explores some popular misconceptions about Boudica including the misspelling of her name as Boadicea. This is attributed to the writing style of a medieval monk and it was thereafter mistranscribed. The focus of the book is the telling of the story of the revolt through the cartoon illustrations and the text which is succinct but engaging.
My five year old son liked the simple map of Britain at the time of the revolt. The illustration of Boudica based on Dio's description of her is also very useful. If you want a history book or just a story book to engage children (6-8 years) then I recommend this one.
Latest History Book Reviews for Children:
Roman Activity Book (Crafty Histories) by Sue & Steve Weatherill Crafty Histories Roman Activity Book is a basic craft book and they seem to have missed the opportunity to really add some authenticity to many of the activities. For example the activity 'How to Make a Mosaic' doesn't show any original mosaics or provide information about how they were originally made. Instead you have instructions on how to cut coloured paper and tin foil into shapes with the suggestion to cut them onto a piece of card in the design of your own pet. I am sure that most parents or teachers even if they had no specialist knowledge would be able to come up with those instructions but I guess it is time saving and photocopiable.
Ok, what's the best thing about the book? I think the instructions on 'How to make a shield' provide the most 'authentic' looking finished product. The shield is curved and the method of forming the handle using a plastic bottle as a former is a good one. I would suggest that if you want to improve it further then you could layer papier mache over the cardboard to add more strength and weight to the shield and perhaps even fashion your own boss to make it look like the real deal. The other activity which I thought was a good one and that would make a good learning project would be 'How to make a water clock'. The method used utilises a cut down old water bottle and you can as the illustrations indicate add a time measure using Roman numerals. Personally I would like to see the children actually fashion the 'clepsydra' from clay and make one like the original ones shown in the accompanying illustration in the book.
The instructions provided on all activities are clear and most children could easily follow them and in that respect they have done a good job. Some of the instructions aren't meant to be followed but are still interesting even if they are a bit frustrating. When looking to 'Make a Meal' you will of course struggle to find a dormouse or when you try to 'Get a Hot Bath' to find 3,000 slaves. In a book which is just 23 pages long I would have kept to providing activities that could actually be made but it does provide some entertainment and education too (to be fair to the authors). The stencils are nothing to get excited about there is one of a gladiator and another of parts of a statue. Other things that you can make using the book as a guide are: a tabula, an abacus, a Roman Border, a toga and a fort. I prefer the Roman activity books produced by the British Museum and by Usborne Activities.
Roman Army (Usborne Discovery) by Ruth Brocklehurst
Several children's books about the Romans arrived at my house at once. My boys aged 6 and 8 years made a bee line for this one. This is a well illustrated book related to the Roman fighting machine and they love it. My 8 year old son is a competent reader but you could see that he was mainly engaged by the illustrations and surrounding text and he read the book on his own for ages.
The book has a reliable factual base and it makes a comprehensive reference book on the Roman Army for children in this age group (6 - 11 years). The text has the right level of vocabulary and the facts contained in it are accurate. However, it's the illustrations which are the strongest element in the book and this is what captures the child's imagination in this case. The bright and busy illustrations in this book make it a very appealing yet informative book for children.
Here is a list of some of the content pages so that you can see that the topic is comprehensively covered: A soldier and his weapons, Organising the army, Protection, Training and tactics, War at Sea, Hannibal, Army on the march, The standards, Battle plans, An army life, Construction work, Siege tactics, War machines, Defending the borders, Life on the edge, Off duty, Celebrating victory, Anarchy and barbarians, Living history, Leaders and losers, Roman Army facts.
Review: Nigel Cross 09/08/11
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