"The Vikings and All That", written by Alan Burnett and illustrated by Scoular Anderson is a lovely little book that forms an ideal primer about a people whose activities were central to the development of the British Isles, and who left their mark on much of the rest of Europe and far beyond. The blurb on the back cover of the book reads: "The Vikings and All That is a skull-splitting saga about the wild, seafaring warriors who plundered and pillaged their way across the medieval world. Packed with detail about everything from their awesome warships to their favourite board games, this book reveals all about the villainous Vikings." 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 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 book that can be enjoyed at a number of different levels. The pictures tell a story by themselves, but they also serve to draw readers into the text, in which you find the real meat of the contents.
You can get a sense of the story being told from the individual chapters. An excellent prologue makes the point that the traditional view of the Vikings as ruthless raiders was only part of a much more complex picture; and we then look at the wider background of the Vikings; their boats and equipment; and the relentless expansion of their influence. There is also a chapter on "How to be a Viking", looking at their life and lifestyle, before we move on to look at stories of Viking explorers who found their way to the Middle East and North America. Viking beliefs are then examined, before we finish with a comprehensive debunking of the myth that Vikings wore horned helmets. We've yet to offer this book up for scrutiny by our six year-old grandson, but we suspect it is one he will enjoy, and then want to refer to again in the future.