From stone circles and woolly mammoths to hill forts and roundhouses, the Stone Age to Iron Age history topic is such an interesting one to dig into.
This period of prehistory in Britain generally refers to the time before written records began. It begins when the earliest hunter-gatherers came to Britain from Europe around 450,000 BC and ends with the invasion of the Romans in AD 43.
The topic was first introduced to the UK National Curriculum in 2014. Prior to this, very few schools had included British prehistory in their history curriculums and the period was somewhat of an unknown to many primary teachers. There was a very limited selection of children’s books that covered the topic well or fictional choices set in prehistoric Britain.
Since then, a wealth of resources have been made available, and publishers have responded to the need for children’s books to match the topic. There are numerous options of picturebooks, non-fiction and chapter books that cover the Stone Age period, and a smaller number for the Bronze and Iron Ages.
In this blog post, we examine some of the choices available to schools looking for books to match the topic.
You can see our full booklist here or schools can purchase a pack of these books from Peters Books.
1. Children’s Books about The Stone Age
The Stone Age in Britain refers to such a vast period of time that most schools introduce it to pupils as three distinct sections. In the early Stone Age, called the Paleolithic period, early people were hunter-gatherers and found food by roaming from place to place according to the seasons. The middle Stone Age, called the Mesolithic, begins at the end of the last Ice Age when sea levels rose and Britain became an island. Tools were developed to become smaller and finer and the invention of canoes meant that people were able to hunt for fish as well as animals. In the late Stone Age, which is called the Neolithic, the way people lived changed significantly because they began to settle into farming communities instead of moving from place to place. People started to domesticate animals and grow their own crops.
A popular book choice that sums up the spirit of the Stone Age is Satoshi Kitamura’s Stone Age Boy. This engaging picturebook tells the story of a boy who falls down a hole to find himself back in time 15,000 years. He wakes in a prehistoric camp and finds out about life in a Stone Age village. Stone Age Boy is a hugely popular book with lower KS2 classes and helps to encourage children to engage with how life might have been different during Stone Age times, as well as being a good choice for stimulating creative writing and the creation of time-slip adventures. Extra facts and information are peppered throughout, and Kitamura’s comic-inspired watercolour illustrations are usually a big hit in classrooms and give plenty to think about. There is also an accompanying 2-week English planning unit available from KS2History.
Another popular picturebook choice is The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein – which explores how the first drawing could have come to be, based on real discoveries made in the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc in France.
A well-loved option for a class reader or chapter book to study at KS2 is Clive King’s Stig of the Dump, which is a classic children’s novel about a young boy who encounters a strange cave-dwelling creature called Stig. Stig takes the boy on a series of fantastic adventures into prehistoric times. Many teachers enjoy the opportunity to introduce pupils to a classic text, and there is also an accompanying Read & Respond book to help teachers with planning. For a less demanding read at lower KS2, you may wish to try the Stone Age tales by Horrible Histories author Terry Deary, which are short, fun chapter books offering prehistoric stories based on real historical and archaeological evidence.
For Upper KS2 or more mature readers, Sophie Kirtley’s The Wild Way Home offers a wildly heartfelt timeslip adventure that takes readers back to the Stone Age to explore themes of family, courage, loss and what it means to be human. Charlie lives in modern times, but after hearing very bad news about a new sibling, Charlie flees to the forest and is transported in time to a Stone Age forest. This is an exciting narrative that will be lapped up by mature readers who are ready for a roller coaster of adrenaline and who can handle difficult themes, including infant illness. Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother series is also a firm favourite with Upper KS2, which is a gripping children’s series that takes us back in time 6000 years as twelve-year-old Torak and his wolf cub journey through the prehistoric landscape.
For non-fiction options to explore the Stone Age, we recommend The History Detective Investigates: Stone Age to Iron Age by Clare Hibbert – which examines key questions and pieces of evidence from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages in order to build a picture of life in prehistoric times. Another great choice is Marcia Williams’ fantastically accessible The Stone Age: Hunters, Gatherers and Woolly Mammoths, which uses an engaging comic-strip style to cover a range of sub-topics including prehistoric animals, hunter-gatherers and Stone Age tools.
You can see more Stone Age book recommendations on our full booklist here or schools can purchase a pack of these books from Peters Books.
2. Children’s Books about The Bronze Age
While the Stone Age tends to dominate this topic in classrooms, the Bronze Age is also part of the curriculum specifications. When people in prehistoric Britain discovered how to extract metal from rocks, bronze replaced stone as the best material for tools. People were able to build better tools for agriculture and they also began to produce weapons and jewellery. Elaborate burial ceremonies took place and important objects were buried alongside bodies in round barrows. Many of these objects have now been discovered and they help us to know more about what life was like in the Bronze Age.
A chapter book that sums up the achievements of the age well is Kathleen Fidler’s The Boy with the Bronze Axe. Set in the Scottish settlement of Skara Brae at the very end of the Stone Age and just before the dawn of the Bronze Age, The Boy with the Bronze Axe is a well-researched story filled with exciting challenges and mysteries. Perfect for confident readers or as a class novel, the book leads well into exploring the changes between the Neolithic period and the discovery of bronze. As characters who had only ever seen stone tools respond to bronze, there is an opportunity to consider what the discovery meant to people who had never seen it before and why it had a such an impact on prehistoric lifestyle.
A much-loved non-fiction choice that also spans across the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age is The Secrets of Stonehenge by Mick Manning & Brita Granström. Built over hundreds of years, Stonehenge is one of the most famous monuments from prehistoric times. Historians believe that construction began in the late Neolithic Age and work continued over the next thousand years, with people making many changes to the monument well into the Bronze Age. There is some doubt over exactly why Stonehenge was built, but a likely reason is for religious ceremonies and gatherings. The Secrets of Stonehenge is a fascinating information text full of images, questions and captions that probe deeply into the mysteries of Stonehenge. This engaging non-fiction text is easy to understand, visually appealing and bursting with interesting facts and theories about the mysteries of Stonehenge.
You can see more Bronze Age book recommendations on our full booklist here or schools can purchase a pack of these books from Peters Books.
3. Children’s Books about The Iron Age
Iron replaced bronze as the main metal for making tools and weapons in Britain, and there began the Iron Age. Better tools for agriculture improved farming and this meant that the population began to rise. People lived in tribes and they were often at war with each other. Soon people protected themselves by settling in hillforts, which were groups of roundhouses and farming land protected by stone walls. During the Iron Age, British society became increasingly sophisticated and people produced ornate art and music. Often these people are called ‘Celts’, although historians believe that this term was not used until the 18th Century. This period ends with the invasion of the Romans in AD 43.
Books on this period tend to focus on the warring nature of tribes, on life in hillforts or on the cross-over with the Roman period. Bestselling author Tom Palmer’s Pitch Invasion, which is part of the Defenders series, brings together his passions for football and history in a haunting story that is ‘super-readable’ due to their accessible layout, including a dyslexia-friendly font and tinted paper. In this story, a boy called Seth encounters visions of severed heads raised high on spikes surrounding an Iron Age hill fort. Seth discovers that the heads were a means of keeping intruders out of the hill fort in Iron Age times and must find a way to face the horrors of the past that echo through the ages. There are plenty of gruesome moments in this story – but it is an exciting and gripping one too. Author Tom Palmer provides supporting materials like quizzes and videos on his website.
The cross-over between Iron Age culture and Roman Britain is explored in-depth in Caroline Lawrence’s The Archers of Isca. The Archers of Isca is the second of Caroline Lawrence’s four Roman Quests stories, which follow the adventures of a group of siblings who are forced to run away from Emperor Domitian in Rome and settle in Roman Britain. What I love about The Roman Quests series is how the historical setting is evoked in such detail that you can’t help but feel totally immersed. Having studied this period of history and taught it at KS2, I was fairly familiar with a sense of what life was like in Britannia during this time, but this book has increased my subject knowledge vastly and brought the period to life in a new and most interesting way. There is also plenty of cross-over covered here between the Romans topic and the topic of Iron Age Britain, as in the story we visit Iron Age villages and explore tribal culture. This is an intensely dramatic text and the vocabulary is ambitious, with plenty of Latin words introduced. The plot is exciting and the setting is steeped in historical details. I would recommend this book for mature upper KS2 readers and above – a very good opportunity perhaps to extend more able historians to explore cross-over between periods of study.
For a more accessible venture into the Iron Age, try Prehistoric Adventures: Hillforts by John Malam. This is a colour-illustrated non-fiction text that covers Maiden Castle, Danebury, Crickley Hill and more hill forts from the Iron Age that can be found across Britain and that give evidence of the lives of prehistoric people.
You can see more Iron Age book recommendations on our full booklist here or schools can purchase a pack of these books from Peters Books.
We’d really love to see a wider variety of children’s books on this topic. In particular, more quality picturebooks or stories that cover the Bronze Age would be a very welcome addition to the pool of options for schools covering this period.
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