Medieval Tales for Kids

I’m currently reading Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, and it has me happily immersed in the stark but beautiful world of 14th-century Norway. Though this dense tome is decidedly not for children, it got me thinking about what medieval tales I would like to share with young readers. Spanning about 1,000 years, the middle ages were a mystifying time of religious expansion, war and famine, and incredible art and literature. It is no wonder that there are so many books that use medieval times as a backdrop, especially as we consider how, in many ways, things have not changed as much as we might think.

whitecatmonkcollage.jpegThe White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrations by Sydney Smith

The White Cat and the Monk is based on the 9th-century Old Irish poem “Pangur Bán” . This beautiful graphic novel-esqe picture book evokes a filmic quality as it follows a monk on his simple but meaningful purpose–reading and learning. The monk juxtaposes his pursuit of knowledge with his cat’s instinctual mouse-hunting–both require concentration, both so necessary. Sydney Smith is one of my all-time favorite illustrators–with simple, elegant lines, he summons a mood that reaches right out to the reader. Here, he brings a quiet, contemplative, yet joyful atmosphere that works perfectly with the poem. In an age of constant distraction and smartphones glued to faces, this book is a breath of fresh air. Ages 4 & up.

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inquisitorstalecover.jpg
The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or, The Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illuminated by Hatem Aly

This middle grade novel is a clever, kid-friendly spin on The Canterbury Tales–in France in 1242, travelers converge on an inn to tell the tale of three children–one child on a mission from the monastery he serves, one a Jewish boy fleeing violence and devastation in his village, and one a peasant girl whose visions have gotten her in trouble at home. And they are accompanied by the girl’s dog, who rose from the dead. As each traveller tells a different part of the story, sometimes contradicting one another, Gidwitz weaves together a tale rich, heartfelt, and hilarious. Aly’s illuminations gorgeously (and humorously) evoke medieval texts, and often tell parts of the story that are left untold by the narrators. If that’s not enough to draw you in? There’s a lactose-intolerant, farting dragon. Ages 9 & up.

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passiondolssacover.jpgThe Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

This young adult (but readily adult crossover) novel is also set in medieval France focuses on Dolssa, a young woman whose lover is of the ethereal, holy variety and who has a gift for communicating with the divine. This incited the jealousy of a young monk who brands her heretic and attempts to burn her at the stake. She escapes, and ends up colliding into the world of matchmaker Botille and her sisters, forever changing their lives. Like Kristin Lavransdatter, this tale is immersive, peppered with phrases from the regional languages spoken at the time and full of such well-developed characters you’ll feel like you’ve lived a little inside each of them after reading. Ages 12 & up.

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