What Was? Series

Book review by
Carrie Kingsley, Common Sense Media
What Was? Series Book Poster Image
Exceptional, relevant series brings history to life.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Each book in the series is a deep dive into a historical event, covering everything from recent decades (such as the Twin Towers that suffered a terrorist attack on 9/11) to the distant past (the age of dinosaurs). Books are packed with details in context, showing how the topic fits into the arc of history.

Positive Messages

The series focuses on the ways an event contributed to society, telling the reader that every person can make a positive impact on the world.

Positive Role Models & Representations

This varied collection of natural disasters, sporting events, human exploration, and more shows readers that there are heroes within disasters, determined legal minds setting up a new country's constitution, and artists who follow their dreams.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the What Was? series is packed with historical details about some of the most talked-about moments in history. The books are fun to read, packed with information and obscure details, and show how the topics are relevant today. Each book takes the time to set the scene, telling readers what was happening in the world during U.S. baseball's Negro Leagues or in Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted. The series is upbeat and positive wherever possible and reminds readers that the past is really not that far behind us, and that it is still relevant today.

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What's the story?

The WHAT WAS? SERIES profiles historically significant events, giving readers a closer look at some of the most talked-about events in history, such as the Holocaust, the great Chicago fire, the Panama Canal, D-Day, the Summer Olympics, Ellis Island, NASA, and many more. Each book has a bibliography and a fold-out, glossy timeline of events at the end, and sidebars throughout the book give additional details related to the main topic.

Is it any good?

The books in this series are fabulous, giving the historical details that are interesting to both young readers and adults. The writing in the What Was? series, as in the other series by the Who HQ authors, is fast-paced and packed with facts and background information, and makes the topics relevant today. With such a breadth of topics, even reluctant readers will find topics in the series to catch their interest. There's a ton of great vocabulary and trivia, and lots of extra (but related) information tucked into the pages.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the What Was? series is relevant today. Have you seen the impact of these historical events in your lifetime?  

  • What fascinates you about this topic? Do you know anyone else who is interested in this?

  • What details did you learn about the topic that you didn't know before?

Book details

  • Author: Who HQ, et al.
  • Genre: History
  • Topics: History
  • Book type: Non-Fiction
  • Publisher: Penguin Workshop
  • Publication date: April 19, 2018
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
  • Number of pages: 112
  • Available on: Paperback, Audiobook (unabridged), iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: June 30, 2019

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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