By Danièle Cybulskie
Once upon a time, I had a discussion with some medievalists about what it was initially that brought us to study the field. For me, it was childhood exposure to things like the fourteenth-century style of art in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, the stories of Robin Hood, and the legends of King Arthur. I think that looking at history and old stories as a child stirs an early curiosity and kinship with the people who lived before us. If you have kids or know kids who you’d like to expose to the Middle Ages, here are a few books you might like to explore over the summer holiday.
Castle: How It Works by David MacCaulay (with Sheila Keenan)
This is a non-fiction book for kids who can manage reading short paragraphs, but it can easily be read to smaller kids, provided they can handle the idea of violence (injured people, no blood). I like this one because it talks about the ways in which castles were built (and used) for defence, while also showing you how everyday people would have lived in them. Littler kids will love the fact that there is a garderobe, a mention of using hay for toilet paper, and a page with dead pigs being catapulted over the walls with the words, “Pigs away!”
Explore Within a Medieval Castle by Justine Ciovacco and Ryan Hobson
This book is a bit harder to find, but I mention it because it’s for the tactile learner (as so few books are!). Every page is a layer of the castle with information surrounding it, so that turning pages pulls off layers until you’ve got a full cross-section of the castle. Naturally, things are a bit more compressed than they would be in a real castle, but it’s a great introduction for kids who learn better with interactive, physical objects.
Medieval Life by Andrew Langley
One thing I love about DK kids’ books is that they have amazing pictures. While this book is aimed at kids around eleven or twelve and up, I bought it for myself because the pictures are so stunning! Almost every aspect of medieval life is examined with accompanying pictures of clothes, food, objects, and architecture. It also comes with a CD of clip art and a poster. Who could ask for anything more?
Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual by Michael Prestwich
This is a book for early teens to adults, and it does just what it says: explains how to be a fourteenth-century knight. It’s very detailed, but not stuffy, and Prestwich has picked and chosen information from a variety of sources to make this enjoyable, entertaining, and enlightening. His method of speaking directly to the reader will help engage teen readers who may be interested in history, but wary of academia. (It’s also a fun way for adults to learn more about knighthood!)
Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady by Selina Hastings and Juan Wijngaard
The story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell is one of my favourites in Middle English. When his life is threatened in the woods, King Arthur narrowly escapes by taking on the challenge of finding out what women love best. Dame Ragnell, a hideous woman, offers to tell Arthur the answer – in exchange for a marriage to Gawain. Dying to find out what happens? You can read this kids’ book with its beautiful illustrations, or you can read the TEAMS Middle English version here.
Showing kids what made you interested in the Middle Ages is the best way of keeping the next generation interested and involved in keeping history and stories alive. I hope you enjoy these titles! Feel free to share with us the best kids’ books you’ve come across, too.
You can follow Danièle Cybulskie on Twitter @5MinMedievalist