Many humorous children’s books take a new look at an old story from history: a fun view of how we always imagined it ought to have been. This is nowhere more true than in that imaginary land of long ago called Merry England. New characters can be created, facing new challenges, but there have to remain a broad historical framework and cultural identity, and some retelling of actual events can consolidate the reconstruction. And as one reviewer said of such a children’s book: ‘With a different take on history, this book is a learning tool for the parent or reader to research/explain the true events.’
The true events in the book in question included the centuries-long war between England and France over the French territory ruled by the former Dukes of Normandy, and humorously referred to as ‘who quits Aquitaine?’. Another perennial problem is England’s rivalry with Scotland with an imaginary demilitarised zone north of Hadrian’s Wall in which by mutual agreement the blowing of bagpipes has been banned. And it is the mishandling of the emergence of a small monster from Loch Ness that leads to the dismissal of England’s first Patron Saint and Minister for the Environment.
There were no Olympic Games in the Middle Ages but if there had been they would surely have included jousting as well as archery and fencing, though jousting would certainly have lost its popularity after the accidental invention of the safe lance when a blast of flame from a fire-breathing monster melted the point into ‘a nasty blob.’ In the Paris Olympics in the reign of King Pierre, the gold medal in jousting went to a decrepit old knight from Spain while the champion archer was Bill Tell from Switzerland. There could be plenty of background research prompted here.
Not only the study of history may be encouraged by a fun book on the past. Another reviewer recommended ‘this book for children aged between 9- 12 and for parents that wish to read with their kids and enforce fun into their learning vocabulary.’ Although the basic language used should be easily understood by the youthful reader, the occasional more difficult word can often be understood from the context in the way all words are originally learned in infancy. The new word is absorbed into the child’s vocabulary with a chuckle rather than a groan but only where in the words of another reviewer the author ‘truly brought his characters and world to life.’ The past in a fun book may not be real, but it has to be believable.