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Today I want to share more of my top picks for living books on the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The titles I’m sharing today are appropriate for fourth through sixth graders. At that age, the students should be transitioning to reading their school books for themselves, and all of these titles can be used as independent reads.
However, one of them you will definitely want to read together if the book is new to you. And that’s my first pick. This one is hands-down my all time favorite living book for this time period: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray. I’m recommending that you read this book together, not because it needs any parts skipped or edited on the fly or any of the other reasons you might read a book aloud to an older student. No, the reason I’m encouraging you to read this book together is because it’s such a great book! You do not want to miss this one, trust me. If you’ve already read it, then, sure, assign it to your older student as an independent read; but if you’ve never read it before, make plans to enjoy it along with your student. You will love it!
Adam of the Road is a historical fiction that takes place near the end of the Middle Ages (1294). Adam, whose father is a minstrel, has always been told that the road is a minstrel’s home, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle. And Adam discovers that truth when his father disappears and his beloved dog, Nick, is stolen. Adam soon finds himself traveling alone along those roads, searching the fairs and market towns, looking for his father and dog. Through his many adventures, you spend time getting to know several medieval institutions, customs, and occupations; such as, training for knighthood, nobility and peasants, poachers, sheriffs, peddlers, plowmen, boys’ schools, shrines, religious plays, ale houses, and more. It’s appropriate for the whole family and with enough plot twists to keep everyone engrossed. Adam of the Road is sure to be a highlight of your Middle Ages study.
This next one is not a book, but it is a great living narration presented by a master storyteller: King Arthur and His Knights, an audio recording by Jim Weiss (500). In this hour-long presentation, Jim unfolds the story of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s an important legend to know about and to connect with the Middle Ages. Now, there are other longer, more detailed books available about King Arthur. But I didn’t want my middle school students spending lots of time immersed in the magic of Merlin the wizard and wading through all the deeds of all of the knights. So I chose this shorter dramatic retelling instead. It has won several awards, and I think you and your children will enjoy it.
Third is a story in poetry form: “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by Robert Browning (1200s). You can get a book of the poem, or you should be able to find it free online. I know bartleby.com has a copy; so does poemhunter.com. “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” relates the legend of a town, Hamelin, that was overrun by rats. The town leaders hire a man to play an entrancing tune on his pipe to rid them of the pests. The piper walks through the town playing this magic tune and all of the rats follow him right out the city gate. Once the rats are gone, the piper comes back to collect his wages, but the townsfolk refuse to pay him. In retaliation, the piper sweeps through the town again, this time entrancing the children, who follow him out of the city. The poem gives your middle school students experience with longer story-length poetry while also teaching a powerful lesson about keeping your promises, and it’s set in the Middle Ages.
And my fourth top pick is a book from the Landmark series. The Landmark books are popular non-fiction titles written for about middle-school-age readers. Each one is written by an expert in his or her field who is also an excellent writer. Landmarks are living books. Look for them. They cover significant events and people in both American history and in world history. Many of them are out of print now, so look for them used. A few are still being published; and The Vikings by Elizabeth Janeway (900–1000) is one that is still available. Here is a great description from the front of the book:
“There was land beyond the western seas! Of that Leif Ericsson was sure. His friend Bjarni had seen it, with its rich green forests extending to sandy shores. To put his feet down on that distant land—which today we call North America—became Ericsson’s dream, for he was a child of the sea-roving Vikings.”
You will read a gripping account of high adventure, duels, and battles, and get to know the daring Scandinavians who discovered Greenland and North America 500 years before Columbus. It’s a great book!
Those four are the books that we schedule for grades 4–6 in the Simply Charlotte Mason curriculum. If you are studying the Middle Ages and Renaissance, those are the books I would highly recommend. You can simply work your way through the list or you can grab the daily lesson plans that outline what books to read when and include teaching tips and end-of-term exam questions, as well as book recommendations for all the other grades.
Let me give you three bonus picks. These are great books too. If your fourth through sixth grader wants to read more about the Middle Ages and Renaissance, these would be great choices.
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (1327–1377)
This book’s plot has a somewhat similar feel to Adam of the Road, in that a boy is plunged into adventure, and following him through that adventure, you learn a lot about different aspects of life in the Middle Ages. Robin is the son of a nobleman, but when he suddenly falls ill and loses the use of his legs, the servants all fear it is a plague and abandon him. A group of kind monks rescues him and nurses him back to health. Robin is impatient to get back to his training for knighthood, but his weak legs hinder that goal. In the end, Robin learns that there is more than one way to serve his king. The name of the book comes from something one of the monks told him: “Thou hast only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it.” A great living idea! This book is shorter than Adam of the Road—120 pages versus about 320 pages—and Adam of the Road contains a little more adventure and plot twists since it is longer. But both are exceptional historical fiction for this time period, as demonstrated by the Newberry Medal on both of their covers.
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle (1155)
We actually recommend this one as a family read-aloud. It’s written in Old English, which can take a little getting used to; but our family found that by the end of the first chapter, we didn’t even notice the wording differences anymore. The story line and writing are so good that the book drew us in and we could follow the action very easily. I think a lot of that ease was because I was reading the text aloud, so all the children had to do was listen to the Old English. For some kids, having to read Old English for themselves and comprehend it at the same time might be a bit much. So I’m recommending this one as a read-aloud. And it’s a great read-aloud, all about the brave and legendary outlaw known as Robin Hood, who proves himself the best in England with his bow and arrow. Here’s a taste of the language so you can judge for yourself:
“In merry England in the time of old, when good King Henry the Second ruled the land, there lived within the green glades of Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham Town, a famous outlaw whose name was Robin Hood. No archer ever lived that could sped a gray goose shaft with such skill and cunning as his, nor were there ever such yeomen as the sevenscore merry men that roamed with him through the greenwood shades. Right merrily they dwelt within the depths of Sherwood Forest . . . .”
You will read about breathtaking escapes, hilarious escapades, quick action, scheming villains, and great surprises—all set amid the pageantry, knights, and maidens of the Middle Ages. You should be able to find this one free online as well. Check gutenberg.org or Google Books. It’s a classic story written by an excellent author.
The World of Columbus and Sons by Genevieve Foster (1451–1537)
Genevieve Foster was an expert at interweaving historical events from around the world that all happened during the same time period. The World of Columbus and Sons is no exception. It really helps you form relations and make historical connections between countries.
The book starts when Christopher Columbus was a boy in Italy. In that section, you read about what else was happening around the world during those years: for example, young Isabella became heir to the crown and married Ferdinand; Prince Henry the Navigator sent explorers to search for a new route to India; Leonardo da Vinci began to study painting; and the War of the Roses began in England. All of those things were happening at the same time. Isn’t that amazing? Each of those stories is told in a short chapter within that section.
And that pattern continues with the other sections, telling about what was happening around the world when Columbus was in Portugal and Spain, then when Columbus was sailing from Spain, and finally, when Columbus made his final voyage. That last section includes chapters about Magellan starting on his voyage around the world; Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; and Martin Luther being denounced by Isabella’s grandson, who became the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
All of those fascinating, intertwined stories are unfolded along with those connecting points that make world history come alive. Genevieve Foster has written several books like this. The World of Columbus and Sons is the one that focuses on the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation. It’s a classic.
Now I would love to hear about some of your favorite living books for grades 4–6 covering the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation. Leave a comment and let’s talk books.