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There are so many great books set in the Middle Ages and Renaissance! I’ve been sharing some of my favorites for the different age groups, and today I want to share my top picks for grades 7 through 9.
These are living books—books that will make the time period come alive for your student.
As usual, they are listed in no specific order.
In Freedom’s Cause: A Story of Wallace and Bruce by G. A. Henty (1290–1315)
G. A. Henty was a master at telling the story of historical events and people authentically. In Freedom’s Cause is about Scotland’s fight for independence, and it focuses on the two men who led in that fight: William Wallace and Robert Bruce. Time has made those men legendary, but they were real people whose deeds have been recorded in history. This book tells the gripping tale, full of courage, loyalty, and ingenuity all in an accurate historical context.
Look for other G. A. Henty titles too. You can find most of his books free online now. And if your children enjoy audiobooks, check out Jim Hodges wonderful recordings of the entire Henty collection.
The Magna Charta by James Daugherty (1215)
James Daugherty is another favorite author who had a passion for the people and events about which he wrote. Beautiful Feet has republished this book, and I can do no better at describing it than what they put on the back cover.
“In the rich turbulence of English history one day stands magnificently apart—June 15th, 1215, the day of the signing of the Magna Charta. On this day, the first blow for English freedom was struck and has forever affected the Western World. Here is the story of three true men, Stephen Langton, Williams Marshal and Hubert de Burgh, whose heroic deeds are set against those of the ever deceitful and crafty King John.
“The wicked deeds of this king gave rise to the illustrious Robin Hood and his ‘Merry Men in Lincoln Green,’ who roamed Sherwood Forest, robbing the rich and giving to the poor. King Richard the Lion heart, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Peter of Wakefield and King Philip all play their part in this saga of adventure and intrigue which culminates at Runnymeade on a summer day in 1215.”
This is a wonderful narrative about all of the parts and pieces that came together in this historic document—the Magna Charta, or Great Charter, a document that limited the power of government over the rights of the individual. It laid the foundation for freedom as we know it. And James Daugherty brings that story into vivid detail in this retelling.
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (1537–1553)
My copy of this book is at least 35 years old. It’s a great story that I grabbed many years ago. (In fact, it still has my old address label that uses my maiden name on the inside cover.) This classic Mark Twain novel weaves a fictional story around two boys who were born on the same day in the same year: one a prince and one a pauper. Through an interesting turn of events, they end up switching places for several weeks.
Both boys end up learning a lot about life during the 1500s—among the royalty and among the lower class— and so will your students. With many twists and turns in the plot, the story keeps you on edge, wondering and anxiously waiting to see how things will turn out.
Because some of the harsher realities and violence that occurred in the streets during that time period might be disturbing to younger children, I like to recommend this book for seventh grade and up. Your younger ones could certainly understand it and follow the storyline, but it might be a bit intense in spots. I think it’s prudent to save this book for your teens; you can decide what will fit your children best. Look for The Prince and the Pauper free online.
The Shining Company by Rosemary Sutcliff (around 600)
Rosemary Sutcliff writes historical fiction that is very earthy, gritty, and real. Her characters are multi-faceted, and the events are not glossy or sugar-coated. Her writing seems to give you a real sense of life in the moment.
In The Shining Company, that moment is early English history and the invasion of the Saxons. The adventure follows a young man, named Prosper, who, along with his servant Conn, accompany their king’s warriors into battle as shieldbearers. It’s written in first person, with Prosper telling his story as he comes of age and grows into a man in the early Middle Ages.
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle (late 400s)
Here’s a classic retelling of an English legend. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is called The Book of Arthur, and it tells the tale of Arthur’s pulling the sword from the anvil, of his meeting Merlin, and of his courting and marrying Guinevere. The last chapter in that part tells how the Round Table was formed. The second part of the book contains stories about Merlin the Enchanter, about Sir Pellias—called The Gentle Knight, and about Sir Gawaine.
I usually assign only the first part, The Book of Arthur, but many students end up finishing the rest of the book in their leisure time anyway. As is usual with Howard Pyle books, the writing is in Old English and may take a little getting used to. But you’ll soon find that the storyline is easy to follow and that the Old English wording only adds to a great time-period experience. This is another classic that you should be able to find free online.
The White Stag by Kate Seredy (400s)
Here is a fascinating book that will help your students consider the idea that history can be told from different points of view. What is a tragedy for one group of people might be a triumph for another group. That’s an important concept to wrap your brain around.
The White Stag tells the story of Attila the Hun from the Huns’ point of view. It does include their battles, but those events are downplayed in favor of giving the bigger picture of how Attila came to be leader, how he led his people, and what he was like in their eyes.
It’s hard to describe the style; the closest I can come is that it reads almost like a fairy tale. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean. It’s relatively short, but provides a lot of good seed for thought and discussion.
And be sure to discuss it with your child, especially the parts that include the Huns’ religious beliefs. Students in grades 7–9 need to have practice verbalizing their beliefs and comparing and contrasting them to other beliefs that they will encounter in this world. They also need to understand that any retelling of an event is going to be biased in one direction or another, and that it’s important to hear both sides of a story—whether in history or in current events. So take advantage of the ideas that The White Stag will introduce and invite those discussions with your teen.
Those are my favorites. Now it’s your turn. And just for fun, I want to do a giveaway. Entering the giveaway is easy. Just take a picture of one of your favorite living books in this same category—Middle Ages or Renaissance for grades 7–9—and post it on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with the hashtag #SCMbookgiveaway. It can be a book I’ve already mentioned or a different one that you love.
Each picture that you post will be considered one entry. We will choose an entry at random to receive a free copy of The Magna Charta by James Daugherty. Enter as many times as you wish, but each entry, each photo, must feature a different title and they all must be living book recommendations for grades 7–9 on the Middle Ages or Renaissance time period. Got it?
Entries must be posted by April 10 in order to be entered for the giveaway. We will notify the winner by private message on the same platform where your picture was posted.
I’m really excited to see your favorite books pictured with your personal flair. Post those pictures, use the hashtag #SCMbookgiveaway, and let’s talk books!