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I'm author of The Snipesville Chronicles. I'm also a published academic historian, but don't hold that against me.Oh, and I'm a Brit. I just happen to live in Georgia.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wot, No Fun British History Books For Bored American Kids?

So much for globalization.

I created a short list of recommended summer history reading for my local independent bookstore, the amazing Book and Cranny. Among my suggestions were Terry Deary's Horrible Histories, a marvelous (and phenomenally successful) British series that is listed with major online booksellers in the U.S.

Silly me. I thought this meant it would be no problem for Debbie the bookseller to stock a few of the titles.

Boy, was I wrong. Turns out, she would have to forfeit the standard booksellers' discount of 45% for a measly 25%, assuming a title was available at all, because most of the books have to be imported from the UK. Since Debbie has to pay her rent, and bookstores are hardly places of great profit, I couldn't ask her to take a hit. We settled on ordering Horrible History of the World (mysteriously re-titled Wicked History of the World for the U.S. market) and the Horrible History Pirates' Handbook, the only two titles available at standard rates on this side of the Atlantic.

I do wonder why these books are so hard to find

I doubt very much that demand is low because American kids wouldn't enjoy the series: My son and several of his friends love it to bits.

Perhaps the problem is that American parents may be shocked by a history series that cheerfully tells of heads being chopped off, and other ghastly subjects that kid adore. Certainly, there are a couple of easily-shocked adults who have vented their spleen in Amazon reviews…But it's not clear that all the critics are in touch with what kids really like. Moreover, American parents have staunchly defended the titles, and praised them for their humor and lively approach to history.

Some years ago, there was an effort to launch an American Horrible Histories brand, with a book on Columbus that…wasn't very horrible at all. In fact, it was rather dull.

Fascinatingly, many of the Horrible History books are readily available in the U.S., but only in Spanish. I'm guessing this means they're big in Latin America, and so can easily be trucked here. Does this mean that Latin American parents have a better appreciation of good kids' history, and that the cultural differences in publishing between Britain and Peru or Mexico are not as great as those between Britain and the U.S.? But I'm just guessing wildly.

Still, I am encouraged that at least two of the titles are available here, but concerned that they aren't much promoted, and hard to find. Let's see how The Book and Cranny does with the two titles in a small, conservative town in Georgia. I'll keep you posted.

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