Literature Based Education – History – You Wouldn't Want To…

I’ve told you about my history anchors for world history and American history.  Today I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite resources for the entire span of recorded history: The You Wouldn’t Want To… series.

I’m going to tell you straight up, this series is NOT for everyone.  You can usually find several of the books at your local library, and I highly recommend that you check them out and preview a few before you buy.

Why are they not for everyone?  These books are not for the faint of heart.  The illustrations are gory and the information doesn’t pull any punches.  People love to look at history with rose colored glasses but the truth is that history is full of insanity that we would never want to experience.  The You Wouldn’t Want to Be… series… is filled with truth about disease, slavery, horrible living conditions, strange customs, and a ton of other historical facts that most people would prefer not to know about.  Most people, but not kids!  Kids LOVE that stuff (I know mine aren’t the only ones).  This series has books on every subject from ancient Egypt to the the Apollo missions.  We have purchased several and honestly if there weren’t a zillion of them I would probably buy them all :)

So what is covered in The You Wouldn’t Want To… series?  I’ll tell you by showing you a book that we bought for our kids.  Our children were becoming a little too enamored with pirates (thank you Jake and the Neverland Pirates).  We didn’t like the romanticized vision they had of piracy.  I ordered You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pirate’s Prisoner thinking that would cure them… I was right.

Each 32 page book in this series follows the same formula.  You are given a “character” and follow his or her life/career as you read.  In this case, we follow the captain of a Spanish ship who is captured by pirates.

Then over the next several pages we learn about the horrible things that you would have had to endure had you been in that situation.  You read about culture, customs, the drawbacks of living in such a time period, and “handy hints” to help you survive.  Along the way there is plenty of cartoonish blood and gore to keep little eyes transfixed and little ears open to your teachings.

At the end there is always a glossary of terms that had been used in the book.  I have found it to be very helpful.

History isn’t always pretty and it does no one good to shield ourselves from the ugly parts.

I have read some criticism suggesting that these books make light of serious things, but I don’t believe they do.  The illustrations are silly and over the top, but it’s FAR more appropriate in my opinion when teaching these things to young children to do so with cartoonish humor than to bombard their innocent hearts with dreadful things.  These books serve as an excellent way to impress the seriousness of these subjects without scaring their delicate psyche.  In my experience children still grow with a healthy attitude and respect for the serious subjects addressed in several of these books.

I have compiled a list of the books in this series that I have been able to identify and have done my best to put them in chronological order.  You can use this list, or the list in my history store (same books, mostly the same order, same affiliate links ;)  You can also take a sneak peak at four of the books here (Egyptian Mummy, Gladiator, Polar Explorer, 19th Century Whaling Ship).

You Wouldn’t Want To … Series

As I have mentioned, these books are not for everyone.  Not everyone is ok introducing young children to tragedy, disease, or any number of things that have happened in our world’s history, nor is everyone comfortable with the imagery that often accompanies those things.  That being said, I have found them to be an excellent resource for my family.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa says:

    THANK YOU! I love it when you post about books, and these sound right up our alley.


    1. For little boys especially… and zombie loving girls (like my Emma) :)


      1. Lisa says:

        What are your top 3 that you would recommend?


      2. Oh goodness! I don’t know, mostly because I haven’t read them all. It really depends on what you want to learn about. I liked the Soldier during the Civil War enough to buy it after checking it out of the library. I also own the French Revolution because it puts it in a light most people don’t think about (the French Revolution and the American Revolution are not even close to being the same as far as motives/morality/outcomes and I love that it doesn’t pretend it was a “noble” war (even if they were justified in their grievances). That being said it has a lot of “French Culture” (i.e., the character you play is the mistress of a rich aristocrat that might be difficult to explain to young kids if you aren’t used to having those kinds of discussions). I haven’t read the American Revolution but it would be interesting to have them both and contrast/compare the two with your kids. I also liked the Typhoid Mary book :) That was fun and we watched a NOVA dramatize documentary on her after reading it. It really sparked Lucy’s interest and we had a nice microbiology lesson because of it :)


      3. Oh, it looks like they don’t have an American Revolution book… never mind :)


  2. Sarah says:

    We love these books too. Looking at your list, there are a lot more than we have read. Luckily our library has had many of them. When ever we are moving into another time period of history, I always look to see if there is another one of these to go along with our study. They help to get a little more realistic look at the different subjects.


  3. Kate says:

    Thanks for this awesome recommendation! I’ve never heard of these, but we are in Phoenix and the library has many, so we will definitely check them out.


  4. Sanz says:

    I’ve seen these at the library but never once picked them up. I will now though! I had no idea there were so many!


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