Review: Scotland’s Kings and Queens

From the origins of the Stone of Destiny, to a gentler view of Lady MacBeth and insight into the interests of James IV, this book opens up Scotland’s past through the power of story – and beckons to us to explore the treasures within. 

Covering a timeline of well over a thousand years, Illustrated Legends of Scotland’s Kings and Queens introduces young readers to many of Scotland’s most prominent leaders, mixing factual pages with the real magic – a re-telling of a legend about each leader that brings them and their world enchantingly to life. 

Rather than attempting to recount every detail, it draws scenes which allow us to experience important moments in time – developing our understanding while still holding our attention.  

We’ve been sharing these stories with our 7-year-olds at bedtime and they’ve been transfixed. While some tales (such as Robert the Bruce and the Spider) gave us a new perspective on familiar legends, most introduced us to figures and events (and I’m including the adults here) that we knew little, or nothing, about. 

There has been a lot of learning and oh, so many questions: “What is a mace/doublet/tabor?” “Why are the numbers written funny?” “What does wooing mean?” but the answers soon unfold in the story or the beautiful pictures, and we have found ourselves making unexpected connections and enjoying a little newfound expertise. 

It’s probably not a book for the most squeamish. There’s plenty of gore (from gruesome operations to beheadings) but, as a household of Horrible Histories fans, that just adds to the fascination. While action does happen on the battlefield, there are also stories of regal kindness and ingenuity and legends where brave women take the lead. 

Our favourite stories were the ones where children played a key role. We liked meeting squire Gavyn from William the Lion’s story, young Murdo Fraser, from the story of James IV, and wee Mary Queen of Scots – and Queen Gruoch’s legend reminded us of plucky Merida from Disney’s Brave. 

We so enjoyed our first encounter with this special book, but we are by no means finished – its pages will be returned to whenever a visit, a lesson or a conversation about royal families prompts us to revisit a story, or check a fact or connection. 

It feels like this book that fills a gap that has been open for some time. It is an overarching Scottish history book that isn’t just easy to read, it’s a page-turner. Not only should there be a copy in every classroom in Scotland – any adult who wants to get a better handle on Scottish history should devour it too. 

Illustrated Legends of Scotland’s Kings and Queens, by Theresa Breslin, ill Liza Tretyakova (Kelpies)  

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