________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover Savage Stone Age. (Horrible Histories).

Terry Deary.
Illustrated by Martin Brown.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
139 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99041-7.

Subject Headings:
Stone age-Juvenile literature.
Stone age-Juvenile humors.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.

**½ /4


The man was quite old for a Neanderthal – about forty years old in fact. He'd had a lot of bad luck and hardship in his life and, finally, he found himself in a cave when an earthquake shook the region. The cave roof cracked and collapsed on him. He was dead.

As a child he'd had a withered right arm that had never grown to full length or strength. The had swollen joints (arthritis) and was blind in one eye. He's been wounded on the skull but that had healed. Most gruesome of all he seems to have come off the worst in a fight with a wild animal and damaged the end of his arm. One hand had been amputated by a sharp but crude stone knife.

His Neanderthal tribe would have been hunters who wandered the forests trapping and shooting animals or gathering fruit and nuts. This half-blind, limping, damaged man couldn't hold a bow and couldn't have been a lot of use to the others.

In Victorian times they might have shut him away in a hospital; in the Middle Ages they might have put him on display in a traveling fair; in ancient Greece they may have left him on the hills to die in the jaws of a wolf.

But, in the Stone Age, this man lived.

Savage Stone Age was originally published in 1999 and is being re-issued along with a number of other titles in the successful “Horrible Histories” series written by Terry Deary and illustrated by Martin Brown. These books are humorous looks at history “with the nasty bits left in” in order to encourage children to become interested in history. Savage Stone Age tries to cover the entire Stone Age in 139 pages, with index. As with all of the “Horrible Histories,” the primary focus is Britain, with additional information about what went on in the rest of Europe. Terry Deary tries to present the Stone Age in as humorous a light as possible and presents the information in a variety of ways, including cartoons, time lines and quizzes. As with all the “Horrible Histories,” Savage Stone Age is intended as recreational reading and does not cover any topic in depth. This is the primary weakness of this book in that the Stone Age, even with the British focus, is just too large for such as brief overview, and the book feels rushed and incomplete as a result. The large number of pages focused on Stonehenge makes Savage Stone Age feel rather disjointed as nothing else in the book receives this amount of attention.

     Suddenly, Norman realizes that the night he distractedly nibbled away an entire page of his latest “Undergrowth” installment, and thus accidentally altered that story’s events, he had, in fact, set off a whole chain of unwritten events in other books as well. Once he has patched things up as best he can in the horse book, Norman again returns to real life, only to be swept into one of his mother’s gruesome murder mysteries and then into one of his father’s cherished medieval English poems. He senses that there is something larger amiss, something that reaches beyond just his book and even beyond all of his family’s books, but he doesn’t know what. He only knows that he must somehow right his wrongs in the book world because, as much as he likes to read, he sure would like to get back to regular life, and stay there! With the dubious help of a strange and shifting character who appears in various forms in both real life and in the book worlds Norman moves through, Norman is, at last, able to solve the web of problems he managed to spin when he interfered with the story of The Brothers of Lochwarren, and he returns to real life and his real family, who despite all their faults and foibles, suddenly don’t seem so bad after all.

    Terry Deary does try to keep everything in Savage Stone Age age-appropriate, even the discussion on bathrooms in the Stone Age. The humour helps keep the book moving, as well as keeping the information manageable for younger readers. The many cartoons and drawings enhance the readability and allow the book to move easily from topic to topic. The index at the end is useful and retains the humour of the rest of the book, including entries for “historians, horrible,” “moss, as toilet paper,” and “pagans, partying.”

     Overall, Savage Stone Age tried to provide a brief and humorous look at the Stone Age. Unfortunately, this is simply too large of a time frame for one book to cover, and so Savage Stone Age is not the strongest of the “Horrible Histories.” That being said, Savage Stone Age is still worth a read for the humour and fun that Terry Deary puts in his books, as well as for giving some useful information about how people lived in the Stone Age.


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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