It’s always good to have a motto – “never eat yellow snow” is one of the best – but when it came to writing my first children’s book, You Are History, I knew what motto I needed to embrace:

The ordinary was often extraordinary

What do I mean by this? Well, firstly, hello! My name is Greg, and I am a public historian. This means I try to make history feel accessible, thrilling, and undaunting to absolutely everyone, no matter their age or background. It can be a tricky gig. For many people, history was the subject they hated most at school – it seemed boring, irrelevant, and incomprehensively vast! All those dates, and battles, and facts and lists… Much like an overcooked Christmas turkey, history can be awfully dry to chew, and there’s always somehow more of it lurking in the back of your fridge…

So, if that’s the problem, what is the solution? Curiosity can be stimulated in many ways, but I believe in the educational power of laughter. Over the past 15 years, I’ve tethered the clanging, heavy hulk of historical rigour to the helium-filled balloons of pop culture jokes, so that the whole thing suddenly floats. I’ve done this with my various adult books and on the CBBC TV show Horrible Histories, the BBC children’s podcast Homeschool History and the BBC grown-up comedy podcast You’re Dead To Me.

But when it came to writing my first children’s book, You Are History; I knew the content had to captivate as much as the style; the story needed to feel like it belonged to the child reading it. I wanted to write something universally accessible, yet personal; a book that thousands of kids might pick up and say: “oh wow, I do that!” And so, I realised, the best way to achieve that was to write about the ordinary objects we use every day. And I mean EVERYBODY!

The ordinary was often extraordinary – really!? Yeah! For something to become normal requires millions of people to adopt it. And that means it must flow through society unhindered by technological problems, culture clashes, supply shortages or ethical concerns. For new stuff to become boring and mundane, you need global connectivity and constant social change – and historians love to remind us the world has been globalised for ages!

You Are History is brilliantly illustrated with hundreds of hilarious, vibrant historical cartoons by Jenny Taylor, so it’s a feast for the eyes. But I also hope it’s a tasty buffet for the brain! It celebrates the fascinating, global histories of 50 ordinary objects that often date back thousands of years, and maybe originated in far-flung places. In these varied stories – many of which are hilarious, bizarre, baffling and surprising – I hope that children will see their owns lives reflected back, and realise that they are part of a huge continuum of humanity stretching back millennia. Everything they do today has its origins in someone else’s story. Basically, THEY ARE HISTORY!  

Thanks very much for reading this,

Best wishes,

Greg

Interested in history – then you will enjoy this podcast in which Greg Jenner talks to Nikki Gamble about history, humour, toilets (and other everyday objects)