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How Usborne World of the Unknown books shaped the lives of a generation

Do you have a particularly vivid memory of a book you read as a kid? Many of us do – children’s books have an amazing ability to shape the imaginations of the growing minds reading them. The illustrations stay with us, too – whether it’s fact or fiction, kids’ books are often full of fantastical things, and if you bring them to life through art, those images tend to be imprinted on our brains.

Usborne’s World of the Unknown books – Ghosts, UFOs and Monsters – were the books that I remember most clearly from my childhood. The artwork was thrilling: spine-chilling creatures leapt from the pages and straight into my thoughts. I read and re-read them, trying to process things as incomprehensible as a screaming skull, alien abduction, Medusa. I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

It seemed strange, then, to end up working at Usborne – the publisher of those childhood favourites – but then perhaps there’s more to it than coincidence. I don’t mean that in the supernatural sense, rather that what we read as children really does have a big influence on us. Reece Shearsmith (actor, writer and World of the Unknown superfan) said that Ghosts “stayed with me my whole life. Shaped it, even.” His work is clearly influenced by all things macabre.

Could it be that Usborne books have influenced a whole generation? It certainly seems that way. We’ve just reissued the second World of the Unknown book – UFOs. This time, another Usborne superfan – impressionist, comedian (and amateur astronomer) Jon Culshaw – put his hand up to write an introduction. Jon says that, as he grew up, this book “was was never far from my side”. He went on, among many other achievements, to write a column for The Sky at Night magazine on Exoplanet Excursions.

The grown-ups that these keen young readers became have been passionate about relaunching this series, to be revisited by the children of the 1970s and ‘80s and read anew by the kids of today. How wonderful to enable others to enjoy discovering these books for the first time! Thanks to Reece and Jon for giving both their time, and huge enthusiasm, to this project.

What I’ve found amazing about meeting people who grew up with these books – at events and online – is the variety of paths their lives have taken: comedians, novelists, teachers, actors, paranormal investigators, physicists, librarians, folklorists, artists, curators, booksellers, archaeologists, and more. At first these paths might seem very different from one another, but at the root of all of them is one thing: curiosity. These are people who spent their childhoods reading Usborne books, and grew up into curious adults, always looking at the world with fresh eyes, continuing to ask questions and encouraging others to do the same.

And that’s what Usborne’s all about, even now, almost 50 years after the World of the Unknown books were originally published. Kids are naturally, irrepressibly interested in the world around them – it’s our aim to make knowledge absolutely irresistible, to feed their curiosity and to help them carry on discovering the world around them – and perhaps, one day, the worlds beyond…

World of the Unknown books reissued for a new generation

World of the Unknown: UFOs

World of the Unknown: UFOs

From flying saucers and supersonic spaceships, to alien encounters and famous fakes, this classic title traces UFOs throughout history, and is the perfect companion for any space enthusiast. First published in 1977, this is the second book from Usborne's beloved World of the Unknown series to be brought back by popular demand. With a brand new foreword by impressionist, actor and comedian Jon Culshaw, otherwise the book remains unchanged from the original. World of the Unknown UFOs investigates UFO case stories. It tells you what is known of the flying saucer mystery and suggests some possible solutions to it. Where do UFOs come from? Are they spaceships guided by creatures from other worlds? Are they figments of people's imaginations? You can find answers to some of these questions in this book and learn how to make your own UFO model, how to fake a UFO photograph, and even how to go hunting for real UFOs.

£7.99

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The World of the Unknown: Ghosts

The World of the Unknown: Ghosts

First published in 1977, this cult classic has been reissued for a new generation of ghost-hunters. This book is for anyone who has shivered at shadowy figures in the dark, heard strange sounds in the night, or felt the presence of a mysterious ‘something’ from the unknown. Ghost stories are as old as recorded history and exist all over the world. Many of the different kinds of ghosts that are thought to haunt the Earth and their behaviour are described here. You will meet haunting spirits, screaming skulls, phantom ships, demon dogs, white ladies, gallows ghosts and many more. This book also explains the techniques and equipment of ghost hunting and tells how lots of ‘ghosts’ have been exposed as fakes or explained away as natural events. Also included are some theories that attempt to explain the possible existence of ghosts. With a brand new foreword by BAFTA-winning writer, comedian and actor Reece Shearsmith, otherwise the book remains unchanged from the original.

£7.99

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Anna Howorth


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