Sunday, June 1, 2014

Secret Peace book review: "You Wouldn't Want to Be ..."

I heard about a series of kids' books recently called "You Wouldn't Want to Be ..." and thought I'd get one to see if they were as aligned with my book, The Secret Peace, as they sounded. They are.

I tried "You Wouldn't Want to Be Sick in the 16th Century!", and it did a great job of emphasizing a Secret Peace idea you may have heard me dwell on before: how terrible the past was. Other books in the series include "You Wouldn't Want to Be a Civil War Soldier!" and "You Wouldn't Want to Be a Pyramid Builder!", and each one teaches kids about a particular time period by emphasizing how horrible it was.

This is an ingenious teaching technique. Instead of reciting dry statistics or focusing on king after king, the book puts you in the shoes of an ordinary person of that time period and their (awful) day-to-day life. This makes it very easy to compare to the reader's own life, and see the differences. Plus, kids are often compelled by weird, disgusting facts.

The only problem I had with the book is that those differences weren't made explicit enough. The book only talks about the past, not how the present compares, leading that implication up to the reader. When talking about the absurd quack medical treatments of medieval times in "You Wouldn't Want to Be Sick in the 16th Century!", it puts the reader in that time period's shoes so completely that some kids might not notice how wrongheaded the ideas are. They're patently obvious to adults, but 8-10-year-olds (my guess at the target age) might not know enough about modern medicine to spot some of the obvious contrasts. Not sure if the other books shared this problem or not.

But overall, it's essential to convey some key concepts from history to kids any way we can, and these books are doing that in a clever, compelling way. Without learning the true state of history, it's too easy to assume the past was an idyllic time. These books will help dispel that nonsense.

Here is the series on Amazon.