"The Celts and All That", written by Alan Burnett and illustrated by Scoular Anderson provides an excellent route into a subject that is oddly difficult to get to grips with. We have also reviewed " The Vikings and All That", by the same author and illustrator, and there the challenge they faced was as much to address and refocus common misconceptions as to explain from scratch a topic their readers were unlikely to have been exposed to greatly before. The Celts provides an altogether more amorphous subject than the Vikings. Their name crops up in a number of very different contexts, from language to art, and to sports clubs; and to the story of adversaries faced by the Romans and Greeks. Yet, while the average young person (and, probably, the average not-so-young person) would have no difficulty at all telling you what a Viking was (with or without those common misconceptions), they would probably have much more difficulty telling you who or what a Celt was.
Which is where this book comes in. It sets out in engaging and approachable terms the story of the emergence of the Celts in Europe during the Iron Age; their aggression towards Rome and Greece; their eventual defeat in all but the outlying areas of Europe by the Roman Empire; their story in Britain, and especially in what is now Scotland; and their post-Roman story as it moves on to take in Irish Saints and the legendary King Arthur. The blurb on the back of the book says that it is "...bursting with blood-curdling battles and important details about the ancient Celts. Everything you need to know about the Celts' mysterious magic and frightful food is to be found inside..." This gives a reasonable feel for the style of the contents, but it actually understates the depth of historical research and sense of balance that emerges. Yes, this is a book aimed squarely at a young audience and yes, that seems to be an audience whose attention needs to be first won over and then gripped, but - and this is intended as a compliment - beneath the slightly sensationalist overlay is a really good history book for kids.
Your first impression on opening the book is the balance between words and pictures. There is plenty of real textual content here, and it is made more attractive and approachable by the superb illustrations used throughout. Sometimes these simply serve to illustrate points made in the text, while in many places they occupy entire pages (or more), providing a considerable amount of detailed information in the process. The result is a lovely book that will be enjoyed at a number of different levels. The pictures tell a story by themselves, by they also serve to draw readers into the text, in which you find the real meat of the content.