Friday, January 18, 2013

Most Excellent Books about the Middle Ages

The Zoomlians are studying the Middle Ages, and they are posting all sorts of cool projects and fun links.

I appreciate these, because we are studying the Middle Ages, too, and I am not very good on the fun projects end of things. In fact, my idea of a good project is one the kids think of themselves and do without consulting me. And clean up afterwards. I am going to try to do the stained glass one, though. And I may point out the helms to them as it might fall into the do-it-yourself category.

What I (unsurprisingly) do better at is books. So, at Wendy's request, here are some of the books about the Middle Ages we have loved the most, or that I expect we will enjoy when we get there. Most of these selections come from Ambleside Online, which is our primary curriculum source.

The Little Duke: This is an old book, but it is definitely worth the occasionally dense language and slow start. It's based on the life of Richard I, Duke of Normandy--great grandfather to William the Conqueror and grandson to Rollo the Viking. The story of an eight year old boy navigating a confusing and dangerous world of warrior and Christian ethics, gruff allies and flattering enemies. It's got a lot of food for thought and discussion and a good bit of adventure.This is the book the ducklings scream in protest when I announce we have come to the end of the chapter.

Our Island Story: This is actually a full history of England for children, but we are reading the Medieval kings this year. I think what I love about this book is that it was actually written for the reason we want the ducklings to study history at this age: to understand more about human beings, and to think long and hard about what it means to be human, what makes a hero, a good king or a bad one, and to begin to develop nuance and recognize the complexities of human existence and choices. It's heavy on the interesting people and even the legendary stories.

Castle and Cathedral: Because, you know, it's David Macaulay and therefore awesome. Nobody is better on how things were built and why. Also, there are movie versions which are wonderful.

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: You have to get the real one, by Howard Pyle, and it better be unabridged. (I got cheated on that once.) If you want to listen to someone who can really roll the language out and sing the drinking songs, the Blackstone Audiobooks reader is awesome. Yes, it's pure fantasy of the Middle Ages and meant to be. Sometimes the legends are the most important part of history; as Chesterton once observed, the legends were written by the hundred sane people in the village, the history was written by the one crank. If Pyle works for you, then you could go on to his other medieval books, like King Arthur and his Knights, and Otto of the Silver Hand.

The Door in the Wall: We haven't started this yet, but it's one I remember enjoying very much as a child. It's about a boy who wants to be a knight but must find another path to greatness when he loses the use of his legs.

The Sword in the Tree: I wouldn't do this as a read-aloud, but it is a well-done early chapter book of knightly adventures.

The Apple and the Arrow: A very nice story of William Tell. We actually read this a couple of years ago, when we were studying Switzerland, but it fits nicely in the Middle Ages, too, especially if you feel the whole knights-and-nobility thing has gotten overplayed.

As for the twins, mostly they just tag along. They are fond of fairy tales and picture books about King Arthur and his knights.


Diary of an Autodidact said...

I will have to locate The Little Duke. Not familiar with that one, I'm afraid. But we do have the Pyle Robin Hood.

Wendy said...

Awesome! Thank you, thank you!!

Carrie said...

OH thanks! I've never known which Robin Hood to pick up. Yesssss!! Marking it on Amazon so I don't forget!

Heather VanTimmeren said...

We studied this time period last year, and I think it's my favorite historical period. For read-alouds, we also enjoyed Adam of the Road and The King's Shadow, which is set in the time of Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror.

By the way, I came here from Carrie's blog because I wanted to comment on your comment on her Emily give-away post. I got rid of my whole collection of Anne books - all 7 of them - in a fit of misguided holiness, too! I feel as if we could be bosom friends!

I've really enjoyed reading your blog and eventually realized what a small world it is! My maiden name was Huntoon, and I stayed with your husband's family while your mother-in-law was expecting his youngest brother! Actually, that was where I learned to cook, and I had a hard time cooking for less than 10 when I got married! I'm so sorry that R's feet have degenerated more quickly than you hoped. May God give you grace and strength for each day.