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Book Review: Raucous Royals – Test Your Royal Wits: Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, And Deduce Which Royal Rumors Are True by Carlyn Beccia

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Rumors about royalty are nothing new. The bread and butter of English tabloids, rumours concerning the royal family often make it to the cover pages of our very own trash papers here across the pond. You may be surprised to learn that some rumours concerning royalty — hundreds of years old — have been accepted into the general body of historical knowledge as fact. In Raucous Royals, author Carlyn Beccia leads readers on a fun filled, factual romp to discover the truth that lies behind this antiquated mud-slinging.

Delving into the truths behind statements concerning an assorted cast of royal characters, Beccia encourages young historians to dig into the facts behind commonly espoused beliefs on the appearance, character, and behaviour of these famous figures. A select group of thirteen royals from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries are included in this 64-page picture book.

Did Marie Antoinnete say, “Let them eat cake.”? Was Empress Catherine the Great killed beneath her horse? Did Richard III kill his nephews? Was Queen Elizabeth I afraid of mice? These questions amongst others are examined in light of the available facts, removing hearsay from the picture entirely. Some of the answers might surprise you – I was shocked to learn that some of the historical "facts" my father had passed on to me as a girl were patently untrue; in fact, they were very persistent pieces of rumour mongering.  Through Beccia's careful examination of the facts, readers will discover whether these — and many other — reports are true, false or unconfirmed.

Far from descending into dry, eye-rolling accounts, Beccia has created a uniquely engaging history resource filled with irreverent illustrations, trivia, quizzes and secret codes. A variety of creative visual techniques are employed to present historical facts in a captivating manner; illustrated graphs, letters, timelines, and authentic portraits are combined with Beccia’s original artwork for a sumptuous visual presentation.

Yes, you read that right. Not only did Beccia write the text of Raucous Royals, she also designed and illustrated the book. In addition, then, to being a talented author and amateur historian she is a gifted artist as well. Her oftentimes-comedic interpretations of the royals combined with off-colour historical facts left me laughing out loud on more than one ocassion. Did you know that in seventeenth century France wealthy men and women would rub puppy urine on their faces to improve their complexion? Pair this factoid with an illustration of a smiling woman holding a bewildered puppy near her face and see if you can avoid laughing – I couldn't. Indeed, an assortment of such indispensable historical facts can be yours to add to your trivia repertoire to keep on hand for lulls in conversations.

Being familiar with some of the ribald behaviours of royalty, as well as having had some raunchy rumours whispered into my ear, I was somewhat concerned with the presentation of risqué subject matter in this title. Beccia exercised tact and caution, politely rephrasing and rephrasing the wildest of the accusations to keep this book appropriate for young children. As a parent, I’m deeply grateful that the Raucous Royals managed to be educational and entertaining without passing into PG-13 (and far beyond) territory.

Printed as a sturdy hardcover with reinforced binding, Raucous Royals is ready and willing to withstand repeated use in the home by both the intended age group (9–12 years), younger siblings who are fascinated by the artwork, and parents. I had a number of chuckles, and caught my husband reading it a few times as well, after which he shared some new facts he’d learned with me. It should also withstand many readings in school, public, and classroom libraries where it is sure to become a staple.

With an extensive bibliography and Beccia’s recommendation to search out primary sources for themselves before believing a historical rumour, a newly enlivened interest in history is sure to result for many young readers.

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