This huge, stunningly illustrated hardback book is definitely one to put on Christmas lists for history-loving kids!
Book: The Humans by Jonny Marx, illustrated by Charlie Davis
Read before: No
Publication date: 3rd September 2020
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Little Tiger Books. All opinions my own.
I would have adored this book as a child! Big, vibrant, and chock full of information, The Humans offers profiles of a wide array of ancient civilisations in a gorgeous format that makes you just want to dive right in. Starting with an overview of the evolution of man and a quick timeline of the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, the book gives readers a whistle-stop tour of some of the most fascinating societies in history. Each civilisation has a beautiful illustrated scene filled with people and buildings, with lots of facts and details overlaid on top, and smaller pictures inset – there are no great chunks of text here, just short paragraphs that offer fascinating glimpses into inventions, language, traditions, and historical figures. The Nubian pages, for example, have sections on their pyramids, alphabet, the move from hunter-gatherer to farmer, archery, trade routes, pottery, the Qustul tomb site, and a map explaining the relationship between Nubia and Egypt. So as you can see, it’s pretty well-packed with info! It’s a book to be laid out on the floor and pored over – the sort of thing that I remember being enthralled by as a kid. The vocabulary is pretty high-level, but key words are defined in the text; it would be perfect for a confident 9-10 year old, and a great read-together book for slightly younger children.
I loved how world-wide this book is – it looks at cultures from all inhabited continents, and though it doesn’t have space to be comprehensive of every civilisation, at the end of each section it offers even more suggestions for things to look up yourself. The majority of cultures discussed in the book are non-white, and the illustrations reflect this really well. I thought that the spreads were really well-balanced – each civilisation has between one and four pages dedicated to it, and though Ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt (the ‘big three’ of English primary education) are at the higher end, so too are Assyria, Ancient China, and Native Americans (this last was also clear in providing facts about specific tribes rather than lumping them all together, and is explicit that many still exist today). As a white woman, I’m certainly not an authority on how this book treats indigenous cultures, but I thought all the cultures were depicted with the same level of enthusiasm, attention and respect; my one nit-pick would be that it could perhaps have briefly discussed the racist roots of a lot of archaeology and anthropology in the introduction. I also noticed that a real effort had been made to offer facts about women in all of the civilisations covered, something that can often be missing from basic historical information, and the illustrations have plenty of visible women. Obviously no book can be completely comprehensive, but the diversity offered here will be a fantastic jumping-off point for kids to start learning more on their own, armed with some basics.
There are civilisations in here I knew nothing about, and plenty of new facts even about the ones I did know! This is the kind of book that feels like an absolute treat, and though it’ll be a good many years before my son is ready to read it, I’m already so excited to share it with him. Even as an adult, it brought back that sense of wonderment at the wealth of history there is to learn – non-fiction can be magic too… This would be a stunning gift for any budding history buffs – four and a half out of five cats!