What We’re Reading: Middle Ages

What We’re Reading: Middle Ages

(So slow! This is from last Thursday and I still haven’t posted it. Though I blame the lack of my computer and trying to blog on the maddening iPad for the delay.)

I’m taking a page out of Melissa Wiley’s book and snapping a photo of the books we’ve read. So here are the library books we perused today. The top photo is of the books we read this morning and the bottom is the books we read this afternoon. We usually only do read alouds in the afternoon, but today was a snowday, too cold and blowing to go out and also we had a huge pile of library books from yesterdays’s visit.

As you can see, our focus is the Middle Ages, and we’re ranging all over the map. Since a friend on Facebook asked how I find the books we read, I decided to include a note on how I discovered each book if I can remember.

The first book is Castle Diary, a beautifully illustrated story of a young page who is sent to live at the castle of his father’s older brother. It takes you through an entire year in the castle, from the point of view of a young boy. He learns Latin, befriends a poacher, helps with the harvest, attends a feast. This is one of the best introductions to life in a medieval castle that I’ve seen. This was suggested in the Story of the World activity book.

Next is another beautifully illustrated large format book, A Farm Through Time, which traces a medieval farm as it changes over the centuries, beginning in 800 and ending in 2000. This was suggested in the Story of the World activity book.

Till Year’s Good End is the story of life of medieval peasants, a page for each month of the year. Beautiful woodblock prints. It did feel a bit redundant after the Farm Through Time and Castle Diary, which both had covered most of the information contained herein, but it is still quite lovely. This was suggested in the Story of the World activity book.

Saladin: Noble Prince of Islam. I suspected this book might be a little… opinionated. Sure enough the Christians are the unprovoked aggressors and the Muslims are ever tolerant and understanding of Christians and Jews. So it’s an opportunity for Bella and I to talk about how history can have a point of view and how authors might not give all the sides of a story or all the information. (As of Thursday Feb 20 We’ve read about half of this and still need to get abck to it.) This was suggested in the Story of the World activity book.

Then our longer read alouds:

Medieval Tales. A bunch of stories from a variety of medieval authors beginning with Chaucer and including selections from Arthurian legends and French tales. What really makes me want to hunt down a copy to own, though, are the illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Oh I do love her work! Found this one on the shelf at our local library. So far I’ve had to preview a bit. Some of the tales are a bit racy. But Bella likes the Arthurian ones especially.

Sword of the Samurai. A collection of samurai stories. It’s fun how the themes echo those in the Medieval Tales: stories of heroism, tall tales, dragons, and the virtues emphasized are similar. On one day we read stories that stressed the importance of obedience for knights and for samurai. Ben really liked this one too. Ever since we saw the samurai exhibit at the MFA we’ve been enjoying picking up books on Japanese life and culture and art. This one is perfect. This was suggested in the Story of the World activity book.

D’Aulaire’s Norse Gods and Giants. Bella originally got a different book on Norse mythology out of the library but it was too dense and neither of us liked it much. So I suggested we take it back and get the D’Aulaire, since we really enjoyed their Greek myths book. Good call. We are liking this much more.

Falaise of the Blessed Voice. I can’t recall how I stumbled across this one. Maybe an Amazon search? It’s a historical novel about St Louis king of France. The copy we have seems to be one of those reprints of something int he public domain, no summary or introduction or anything. But so far the protagonist is a young blind girl who has a beautiful voice. She’s a foundling who encounters King Louis and his wife, Queen Margaret beginning when they wash her feet and those of a blind beggar. I have no idea where the story is going. The copyright is 1904. The author is William Stearns Davis, who sounds like an interesting character from the Wikipedia entry: After the fourth chapter, I’ve decided to retire this until Bella is older. It’s not really a child-friendly novel. The main thrust of the story is a plot to prove Louis and Margaret’s marriage is illegitimate so that Louis can be married off again. Blanche is shown to be overbearing and Louis completely under her thumb. The focus is not on his saintly nature, but rather how weak and ineffectual a ruler he is. Which may have been true at that point in his life, but I don’t think it’s a terribly edifying story for a 7 year old. Fortunately the language of the plotters got quite thick and hard to follow. It wasn’t hard to convince Bella to put the book aside for now. We’ll seek out a different life of Louis if we can find one.

El Cid. I think I stumbled across this on Amazon but maybe it was in the in the Story of the World activity book. Not sure we will read the whole thing. I already had to edit on the fly in the first chapter when an argument broke out and the protagonist’s parentage was called into question. Bella doesn’t seem very interested. But I might read it myself because I don’t really know the story except in the most vague outlines.

The Striped Ships a historical novel about the Norman Conquest and the Bayeaux Tapestry. It’s pretty grim and violent, in the first chapter there is much killing and even an attempted rape, not overly graphic but I needed to edit on the fly and it was still a bit much for my sensitive Bella, though I’m really enjoying it. She has refused to listen any further after the first three or four chapters so I’ve decided to just read it myself to see if it’s worth pushing her forward. The heroine is the daughter of a Saxon thane whose father is killed and family scattered when their village bears the brunt of the Norman landing. She and her brother Wulfric set off for Canterbury. On the way they are robbed of their clothing. When they get there, things are tough.

(I wanted to add links and authors and more details, but it’s already been a week. I’m just going to post it already and maybe come back to that if I have time.

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  • A Street Through Time is one of out all time favourite looking at books. I’ve even noticed our university aged boys pulling it off the shelf for a browse…

  • +JMJ+

    Fantastic choices, Melanie! =D Well, maybe not Falaise of the Blessed Voice. LOL! But I just love children’s books set in the Middles Ages!

    Do you know The Door in the Wall by Marguerite d’Angeli? It’s one of my favourites. =) It’s a short chapter novel, so perhaps Bella might be ready for it.

    • I do think Falaise will be interesting for me. Just I should have vetted it before I began to read I guess.

      Door in the Wall is one of those books I can’t remember if I’ve read it or not. I guess I’ll find out when I try to read it to Bella.

  • The Middle Ages is such a tough time period to read through so when I find a good book, I tend to snap it up so I don’t forget about it by our next go round. My husband has also made a habit of continually searching Amazon or Abe Books for out of print copies. For the Norman Conquest we like the picture book by C. Walter Hodges. I like the Stories of Beowulf and Stories of Roland for Children books. And my children enjoy reading In the Days of Alfred the Great and In the Days of William the Conqueror by Eva March Tappan. Thankfully my oldest is able to find bias and bring it to my attention and we discuss it. I still have to carefully monitor my son and younger daughter’s books as they may not catch it. A Farm Through Time is also one of my favorites, however my kids didn’t take to it as much.

  • Have to second that vote for “A Door In The Wall.” I love everything by Marguerite de Angeli. How about “Chanticleer and the Fox” and Trina Schart Hyman’s “St. George and the Dragon”? Wonder if your children wouldn’t really like those?

    • Oh yes we have Chanticleer and the Fox and St George and the Dragon. They are such well beloved books. I haven’t bothered to list the books we own that fit into our medieval theme because they are just good friends. I probably should make an effort to draw them into the conversation; but then Bella is a very thoughtful child and tends to draw connections on her own.

      We also have and love A Medieval Feast by Aliki and St Joan of Arc by Margaret Hodges and Merlin and the Making of the King illustrated by Trina Schartt Hyman, and Marguerite Makes a Book and Across a Dark and Wild Sea and St Kevin and the Blackbird, and a Medieval Christmas (illustrated with various illuminated pages from various Books of Hours) all of which would suit a medieval unit very nicely. And I’m probably forgetting something else too.

  • Ooo, what a wonderful collection! You probably have “The Kitchen Knight” too, then. Aren’t there so many good choices for children detailing that period in time…

    • Oh yes. The Kitchen Knight is grand. There really are a lot of great books. I’m wondering if we’re going to find as much good material when we get to the Renaissance and Reformation/ Counter-Reformation.