As the national holiday draws to a close, many parents will hope that their kids emerge having learned something about the event that it commemorates – the birth of modern China. But why shouldn’t an interest in history carry through to the other 51 weeks of the year?
Kids love stories and the tales found in the past can be as, if not more, engaging than those found on the fiction shelves. Here is my list of some of the best history books for children, some of which fascinated me so much as a child that I ended up taking a degree in the subject a decade after reading them.
Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories series has captured children’s imaginations for over 20 years with its combination of illustrations, fun facts and jokes covering some of the past’s most gruesome periods. His tongue-in-cheek approach will entertain and teach in equal measure, covering over 100 subjects from the Rotten Romans to the Vile Victorians. The genre-defining books have spawned a number of spin-offs, most notably the animated and live-action television series.
Suitable for ages 6+
Chinese Cinderella: The Secret Story of an Unwanted Daughter
If National Day sparked your child’s interest in modern Chinese history then Adeline Yen Mah’s story of growing up here in the 1940s may be a good next step. Struggling with the the indifference of her father and stepmother, she describes her struggle to find a place amongst her siblings. This account, along with the fictional sequel Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society, provide insights into life during this period, as well as looking the pressures of growing up in a wealthy Chinese family.
Suitable for ages 10+
A Little History of the World
It is no mean feat to chart the exhaustive history of human development, from cavemen to the twentieth century, in a way that is accessible to children. But that is exactly what German art historian Ernst Gombrich manages in A Little History of the World, a book often enjoyed as much by parents as their kids. At over 300 pages, the book provides rich rewards to the patient reader.
Suitable for ages 10+
Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders
Tony Robinson may be better known as the dim-witted manservant, Baldrick, in the British comedy Blackadder, but he has since forged a successful career as a writer and pop-historian. His well-received Weird World of Wonders series continues in a similar vein as Horrible Histories, with the stories of the Ancient Greeks, Egyptian and others told through cartoons, quizzes and genuinely entertaining historical narratives. Well-written and informative.
Suitable for ages 7+
The Diary of a Young Girl
Known to many as The Diary of Anne Frank, there is perhaps no child’s account of history more powerful than that of the young Jewish girl in hiding from Nazi persecutors. Written in the form of a series of letters to imaginary friends, Anne uses her diary to reflect on her feelings of loneliness, the development of the Second World War and her tumultuous relationships with the adults in the hidden annex where she remains for over two years. Both a coming-of-age tale and a harrowing personal account of the twentieth century’s defining conflict.
Suitable for ages 11+. Versions with sexual content removed are also available.
All of these titles are available to buy at Taobao.
Images courtesy of Scholastic, Delacorte Press, Yale University Press, Pan Macmillan, Penguin and Wikimedia Commons