Early Culture Series
The covers will remind you of textbooks possibly, but the content is exceptionally good! With alternating chapters of history and culture, these books are well-written, interesting, and occasionally humorous.
Well illustrated with photographs in black-and-white and color. These are the best overviews of early cultures that we've found for ages 12-16.
Hard-to-find but well worth the effort.
The Sumerians: Inventors and Builders by Elizabeth Lansing
The Egyptians: Pharaohs and Craftsmen by Janet Van Duyn
Medes and Persians: Conquerors and Diplomats by Robert Collins
The Greeks: Their Legacy by Janet Van Duyn
The Early Romans: Farmers to Empire Builders by Kenneth D. Matthews
(We have found that this title is less interesting and appealing than the others.)
These were published in the U. S. by McGraw-Hill and in the UK by Cassell.