________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 20 . . . . May 30, 2008

cover Rotten Romans. (Horrible Histories).

Terry Deary. Illustrated by Martin Brown.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
141 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99428-6.

Subject Heading:
Rome-History-Juvenile literature.
Rome-History-Juvenile humour.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.

*** /4


Julius Caesar was one of the greatest Roman leaders. He was so successful he was murdered ... by his friend! Rome had been run as a “republic” for many years. That is to day that the important people in Rome decided what to do. Then Julius Caesar became so powerful there was a fear that he'd take over. The people thought he wanted to become “King of the Romans.”

The last king they'd had was a disaster. His name was Tarquinius Superbus who lived in the fifth century B.C. He abolished certain rights of Romans and was the rottenest Roman of the time.


Was it true that Caesar wanted to be crowned king? And would he get to be as bad as Tarquinius? If so, it would be better to kill him now! Rotten Romans is part of a reissue of the successful “Horrible Histories” series written by Terry Deary and illustrated by Martin Brown. These books are humourous looks at history “with all the nasty bits left in” in order to encourage children to become interested in history. Rotten Romans is a look at Roman history, with a focus on the Romans in Britain. Deary covers everything from Roman leaders and the Roman army to Roman games and Roman banquets, as well as looking at the Celts and what Britain was like before and after the Romans arrived.

     Rotten Romans is intended as recreational reading, and anyone using it as a reference for homework would want to double-check the information in another source as there are several places where the information is not quite as accurate as it could be. One such place is the origin of the word “barbarian” which the Romans got from the Greeks, but Deary indicates originated with the Romans. In addition, Deary gives the common statement that the Romans used a thumbs up/thumbs down hand signal to indicate the fate of gladiators. The Romans did use hand signals at the end of gladiatorial contests, but it is not actually known what the signals were. These are relatively minor points, however, and given the age group that this book is intended for, Deary does a good job with the facts.

     Although Rotten Romans is supposed to be history with all the nasty bits, Deary is very much aware of his audience and keeps the nasty bits age appropriate. As part of both the humour and the learning experience, there are a number of items that would not necessarily appear in a more scholarly work that children will enjoy. There are three recipes so that readers can have their own Roman banquet, complete with instructions and a warning to have an adult make the recipes. All measurements, temperatures and ingredients have been modernized. There are also Roman games for the readers to play, again with very clear instructions. The games give what materials would have been used in Roman times but also give a modern equivalent so that they can be played.

    Rotten Romans contains many illustrations which take the form of black and white cartoons. These are prominent throughout the book and reinforce and supplement the text. There is also a very good index at the end. The writing style is very appropriate to the audience and to the intention of the book, although adults might not enjoy the non-stop levity quite as much. Overall, Rotten Romans is a fun and educational look at Roman history and the Romans in Britain. It covers a surprising amount of material and makes it very accessible to the intended audience. Children should find this book a fun way to learn more about Roman times.


Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at UBC, Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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