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Dude, Where’s My History Books?

by on January 24, 2008

This has been a year that cinema has reminded us that often there is “more than meets the eye”, and this observation extends far further than toy cars that swivel, twist and ultimately snap into robots with the tiniest heads imaginable. No, we can take this line one step further. There are other products out there that have more than meets the eye.

History has never looked so orange.

Yes, the segue I’m about to commit makes an awkward transition from a popular toy-come-movie franchise to a range of picture books for the 8-12 year old market—precisely the age-range that the majority of people reading this review will instinctively avoid.

The sad fact is that this unusual article should demand as much attention as robots which transform into novelty vehicles and beat boxes, and if I as an underhand reviewer have to use popular mainstream movies to lull you into an article you probably don’t want to read, then so be it—that is what I will do.

History Dudes is the title of a new series of books on old history. Aimed at the pre-teen, they intend to educate and amuse at the same time. As we know, trying to educate through fun is an ordeal that rarely pays off, and I for one had very little interest in a book that makes a headline association with such a vacuous word as “dude”, but please, hear me out, for it’s all better than it initially sounds.

There are now two of this series sitting by the throne and each is as good as the other. History Dudes: Vikings is an overview of Viking society with a slightly contemporary edge to the book’s vernacular. If you’ve been paying immediate attention to my words, it will be of no surprise that the second book, History Dudes: Ancient Egyptians is an overview of Egyptian society with a slightly contemporary edge to the book’s vernacular.

Front cover for History Dudes: Vikings. Notice how the color has been selected to ensure it will not complement any other book on your shelf.

To be fair to all you patient, animation hungry readers, History Dudes does have a some strong links to the triple kingdom of cartoons, art and geekdom. The illustrations for this book are by Rich Cando, a name that may not be immediately familiar, but long-time users of the Internet Super Highway (and if you remember it being referred to as such, you can be sure I am talking to you) might recall Star Dudes; a set of short animations that told the story of the Star Wars films in a very condensed format—with the word “dude” parlayed willy-nilly throughout.

Yes, if you can recall the style of Star Dudes, you’ll get the visual gist of this range of books, and a consistent vision it is. The layouts, illustrations and textual information that create the History Dudes books are enchanting, and rich with detail, humor and fun.

The books have diverse and colorful layouts. Each topic is given a double page spread and the visuals carry across the two pages. These topics are given a variety of formats. Some are practical scenes for instance, in History Dudes: Vikings, the topic of Viking burial is depicted visually as a scene by a viking pyre, and fact bites are littered across the dynamic scene and connected to a variety of characters and historical objects related to the event.

A page about Viking Jobs! Resume at the ready!

Other page are a little less literal, with visualizations depicting core elements of a historical topic. For instance, History Dudes: Ancient Egyptian explains the social hierarchy by illustrating the community in the shape of a—you guessed it—pyramid; History Dudes: Vikings has a wonderful snaking time line with images to depict various periods in Scandinavian history. Regardless of the topic, the pages are active and full of detail which will keep the eyes of the young and old wandering for hours.

One of the History Dudes‘ best features are the interviews. These are frequently used throughout the series and epitomize the contemporary humor the series title suggests while also offering a close introspective look at the lives of the books’ subjects. These interviews can range from dialogs with a simple Viking cook to a famous Egyptian king. While these interviews are humorous they never lose the factual undertone. These segments have become my personal favorites of all the topics.

Tomb Raiders: For once, excessive breastage not required.

Be it an interview, a time line, a description of a social belief or principle, a visual breakdown of a historical location or legendary event, History Dudes maintains a healthy balance between what’s funny and what’s informative, while remaining colorful, energetic and bursting with enthusiasm. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into these books and a fair amount of research. They are a great way to get a feel for a point in history even if they would hardly be classed as serious research material. Artistically, there is a great deal aspiring—and professional—artist could learn in terms of layout, color and consistency. The spreads are busy but never feel cluttered, and the artwork remains crisp and confident throughout.

Any grumbles? They say you should never judge a book by its cover, and there couldn’t be a better case than the History Dudes series. A poor choice of binding materials does not sell the book to the appropriate age range: the front and back cover have a hard paper texture akin to a pre-school book, not a book aimed at older children. This rather misleading choice in binding, along with the vivid block color that encompasses the outer layers, combine together and diminish the inner integrity of the product. In my opinion, such production choices could put people off buying the book on the misguided presumption that the series is aimed at a very young age, and that’s a great pity.

While the books aren’t overly abundant in pages, massing around 60 odd pages, the amount of detail inside these books gives you value for you bucks. Certainly, these books are musts for Star Dudes fans and a fun addition to the bookshelf of the more mainstream audiences. Expect to be amused, expect to be entertained, and dude—expect to learn some stuff about history.

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