A preamble about world building, leading to Viking Raiders for Non Fiction Monday

A few days ago, Jo Walton over at Tor wrote a post called "Real world reading for fantasy writers," making the point that the more you know about the time and place on which you are basing your imaginary world, the better your world will be. One of her suggestions was to look at children's books- "Children’s non-fiction almost always has illustrations, which can be very useful, and it’s usually easy to read and lets you know what it is that you want to know, so you can approach the adult books from a point of less ignorance. Also, children are assumed to be more interested in the practical details of life—I have no idea why."

My own eight year-old child is fascinated by world building--drawing maps of imaginary places, and pictures of the temples and castles and weapons therein (with a heavy emphasis on the weapons). I would love to see him start putting details of this kind into his stories as he becomes a more competent writer.

So today I have been wondering what specific children's non-fiction books to put in a list both for adult fantasy writers and for children just beginning to discover the joys of writing stories that have material foundations in the past. And I am thinking that this might be a nice thing to start exploring on non-fiction Mondays, gradually leading to a lovely Book List.

A book that came quickly to mind was Viking Raiders (Time Traveler), an Usborne book. The edition I have, by Anne Civardi and James Graham-Campbell, illustrated by Stephen Cartwright, was published way back in 1977. It was revised and reissued in 2003.

This is the sort of book that is just downright enjoyable. It starts with a hook for young readers--you are asked to put on a magic helmet and travel back in time. Next, you meet all the Viking characters you will encounter in Viking times--their lives provide a story arc for the non-fiction. Then things get really cool, with a bird's eye view of Earl Knut's Farm, in the year 890 A.D--lots of little things to see, lots of labels hither and thither, busy people (actually, come to think of it, a bit like Richard Scarry). Next a cutaway of the longhouse, the building of a Viking ship, launching a raid, trading, immigrating to Iceland, and more...all with wonderfully detailed illustrations.

At the end, as a pièce de résistance, there is a map of the Viking world showing lots of little Vikings and Viking ships going all over the place. As a coda, there is a two page, more text-heavy, spread on "The Story of the Vikings"--straight up fact for those who want to learn more.

We really like this book in our house. I shall read it to the boys again tonight, and maybe we can all draw Viking settlements and dragon-prowed warships and swords and shields afterwards....

Anyone else have any favorite non-fiction Viking books, good for world-building purposes?

Today's Non-Fiction Monday roundup is here at Picture Book of the Day.


  1. I don't have any Viking book suggestions, but I build worlds - to an extent - in maps of imaginary places, and I am trying to bring more details into my maps. I would like them to be stories in themselves. So I will check out your book recommendation, and I also thank you so much for the link to the Tor post, as that looks like an incredible list of resources!

    Lest I go away without offering anything in exchange, however, I can say that "The History of Pirates" by Angus Konstam is very useful for the pirate-y details that might slip one's mind. It is about 50/50 illustration and text and contains quite a bit of history; while is not the best-written book (it jumps around a lot), nor the most scholarly, he does attempt to delve into the actual history of piracy, as opposed to the stereotypes, so it is very useful for a jumping-off point.

  2. Maps of imaginary places are the best!

    Thanks for the pirate book recommendation--we will look for it!

    And thanks for taking the time to comment.


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