Our Ten Favorite Books With the Middle Ages

I’ve been pretty remiss in blogging about our history journey this year, but I may catch up with a few forthcoming posts.  We’re about to wrap up our study of medieval Europe, loosely using Story of the World as our spine.  Just so you know, we’ve covered the Dark Ages, the rise of Islam, the Vikings and the whole medieval period.  However, we haven’t ventured to India, China, Japan or Africa quite yet.  That’s for the rest of the year.  I did a post at the end of last year about our favorite books about the Ancients, so here’s our favorites about the Middle Ages.  Our method of choosing books is mostly just to show up at the library and see what’s there, so they may not be the best books, but they’re the ones we’ve enjoyed most.

Beowulf: A Hero’s Tale Retold by James Rumford
I just adored the book design on this one so much.  The illustrations are so intricate.  The style reflects the artistic knotwork of the Anglo-Saxons, which ties them to the story.  And, of course, the story is retold well, with just enough detail.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Michael Morpurgo
I winced at several of the scenes where the wife tries to lure poor Gawain to her bed, but the kids adored this lushly illustrated book and found the whole thing fascinating.  I don’t think they understood those parts at all.  Instead, they were focused on the strange goriness of the tale and the twists and turns that Gawain’s fortune goes through.  We read a number of various Arthurian books, but the kids clearly liked this one the best.

Muhammad by Demi
Of course Demi’s lovely entry into her biographies about the world’s great religious figures has to make my list.  The kids were fascinated by the gold illustrations and especially by the fact that Muhammad himself is shown only in gold.  The story is an excellent introduction to the subject of Muhammad’s life for young children.

The Arabian Nights by Neil Philip
We read a number of different versions of the various tales from the Arabian Nights, but this version was our favorite.  The illustrations are brightly colorful, with touches of gold.  The stories were lengthy enough to feel meaty and there was quite a lot of them included as well.

D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire
I have recently learned that some people don’t really appreciate the D’Aulaires’ artistic style.  I hope you’re not one of those people because I would have to bite my thumb at you with vigor!  The kids liked the weirdness of the stories.  I liked the introduction in this new edition by Michael Chabon, who is the subject of my literary crush.  We also really enjoyed the D’Aulaires’ book Leif the Lucky.

Castle by David MacCauley
We both read the book and watched the video version that MacCauley made in the 1980’s for PBS.  Together, they were an excellent pair.  The kids were fascinated by garderobes.  It was the same with MacCauley’s book about the Roman town last year when they spotted every instance of Roman toilets.  MacCauley’s Cathedral was another favorite read.  The video version of that seems to be unavailable, however someone has enterprisingly uploaded it here.

The Canterbury Tales retold by Marcia Williams
I’m not completely keen on Williams’s various retellings.  We did her Odyssey last year and have used some of her Shakespeare tales as well.  However, her irreverent, comic book style meshed so perfectly with the bawdiness of Chaucer’s stories that this worked really well.  I had a longer retelling out from the library as well, but we ended up liking this one more.

Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by Laura Amy Schlitz
I resisted this book for a long time.  I mean, an inaccessible reader’s theater book in verse winning the Newbery award?  When I read it awhile back, I didn’t think much of it.  However, when I read it aloud to the kids, we loved it and speaking the words do make the story come to life.  The spot the connections between the stories games were especially fun to play.  It gave such an amazing introduction to so many aspects of medieval life.

Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman
We reread a number of fairy tales for this unit because they seem to have their roots in folk stories of the middle ages.  I think this one was our favorite.  We had read it many times before, but I love Hyman’s illustrations, with their little borders.  I also love how matter of factly she tells this somewhat gory tale.  There’s something almost disturbing about how, after nearly dying for having left the path, the girl remembers that at least she said please and thank you.

Robin Hood by Paul Cresswick
I put this one on very hesitantly, but the kids loved it and they especially enjoyed the Robin Hood story in general.  The library didn’t have the version I really wanted of Robin Hood, so we read several others and the kids certainly gravitated to this one.  On the positive side, it was just the right length and the N.C. Wyeth illustrations are lushly beautiful.  I’m a huge fan of the elder Wyeth’s illustrations in general.  On the negative side, the version we had was a condensed book, something that I usually abhor.  Plus, it contains a very strange plot twist.  In this version, Richard the Lionheart goes away on Crusade while his father is still alive, something that is historically false and seemingly an unnecessary change to the story.


3 thoughts on “Our Ten Favorite Books With the Middle Ages

  1. Aloha,
    I am glad that you enjoyed reading my book based on Beowulf. Thank you for the nice comments. I was wondering: have you seen my book TRAVELING MAN? It also takes place in the late Middle Ages, but is not about a European but about a Muslim traveler named Ibn Battuta. By the way, I have a book coming out next year about book making in the mid-fifteenth century called: FROM THE GOOD MOUNTAIN: HOW GUTENBERG CHANGED THE WORLD. Maybe this will fit in with some future exploration of the so-called ‘Dark Ages.’ Aloha, James Rumford.

  2. What a fantastic post! Thanks for sharing your experiences with the best books on the Middle Ages!

    It is is so important to give our kids a wide view of history and culture, I love your choices.

    Read Aloud Dad

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