Every time I visit somewhere new with my children, I try to introduce them to the place we’re going to visit in advance by reading about the country and it’s history. In planning our family world trip, this is more complicated than usual since we’re planning to visit many countries over a longer period of time. In researching kid’s books for this list of countries, I came across Scholastic’s Wicked History series and decided to start with introducing my boys to the “big names” in world history and their stories.
I’m also getting my boys used to the fact that while we’re traveling, they’re going to have to do schoolwork with Mom + Dad. It took some convincing – and a little bribery – to get BigB to write down his thoughts on these books but in the end it was an interesting project for both of us. At his insistence, these mini book reports are ordered from most wicked to least wicked (by his estimation) with a related “wickedness rating”.
Cixi Evil Empress of China
I think the title is correct, she was an evil empress. She was arrogant, mean, and selfish and in a time where China needed a great leader she could have wiped out the population. She didn’t give people food during the famine and she spent tax dollars on luxuries for herself.
The format of the book is very good because one of the most important things about history books and biographies/auto-biographies is that they are in chronological order. I was amazed at how Cixi came from being a girl who had barely any future to become an empress who ruled China for more than 42 years. Wickedness rating: 7/10
Francisco Pizzaro was an evil man. Instead of learning from the Incas and sharing culture, he, as the title suggests, completely wiped out these people. He was an evil back-stabber, even to his own people. He had a family of two brothers – who I don’t think were as mean as him, but I’m not sure because they’re not mentioned much in the books. He murdered many, many people approximately 100,000 – more than twice as many as should have been killed in order for Pizarro (and maybe Spain’s King and Queen) to take over the Incas. There are many pictures in this book a few of which, such as the picture of Pizarro’s army taking over Cuzco, are terrible. Wickedness rating: 6.5/10
Alexander The Great: Master Of The Ancient World
Alexander The Great started out as a good and kind person. I think the one major event in his life that made him wicked was that one of his many half-siblings challenged him to take over his throne – just by being born. Alexander conquered many great nations from Greece to Egypt to Persia. The farther East he went the more and more he adopted foreign beliefs and cultures. He became the Pharaoh in Egypt by praying to their biggest god not Zeus.
When he was conquering, lots of things happened that drove him a little closer and eventually over the line of his sanity. The last and biggest thing that pushed him over the edge was the death of his life-long and best friend, Hephaestion. Alexander blamed the doctor who was looking after his friend, but we know that it was the friend himself who had not followed the doctor’s instructions. Alexander ordered the doctor to be crucified! Wickedness Rating: 6/10
Genghis Khan: 13th Century Mongolian Tyrant
Many think that this title “13th Century Mongolian Tyrant” is correct. That is so very wrong. Genghis Khan was a fair leader, had good judgment and he hated betrayal in any form. He was just ruthless in battle. An example of this was the way he is supposed to have said “Use farmers as shields? Sure, so long as it helps us win the war.” He conquered almost every part of Asia but, unlike Pizarro, he did not destroy the cultures and people of the countries he conquered. In fact, he let them join his army and when they joined it, he was tolerant of all beliefs and all faiths be it Buddhism, Christianity or Confucianism. But also, unlike Alexander, he did not adopt the cultures he conquered he stuck with his own beliefs in the gods of nature.
Genghis Khan had four sons. He chose Ogodei, his youngest son as his successor because if the eldest, Jochi, had been chosen, then Chagatai, the next son, would have started a civil war and vice versa. Tolui, the third son, was not considered because even though he had great skills in battle, he was showing that he might be cruel. Wickedness Rating: 3/10
The parental perspective: These books are short and easy to read – which is a plus because biographies are a tough sell next to Diary Of A Wimpy Kid. I liked the “Wicked Web”, a graphical depiction of the primary character and the supporting cast of players in the story shown at the front of each book. The detailed timeline at the back of the book is a neat summarization tool. The bibliography of publications and websites is particularly useful for me and would, I imagine, be a good resource for any child doing a research project on any of these characters.
Relevant adult book recommendations
The Last Empress by Anchee Min: I know very little about Chinese history but this was both an easy read about a fascinating lady and gave a great introduction into the political events in China at the turn of the last century.
The Last Days Of The Incas: This one is on my bookshelf having been recommended by some friends of mine who just visited much of South America at the start of their round-the-world trip.
If you have any recommendations for books for adults or children about people or places in South America, SE Asia, China or Central Asia, do leave a comment.