Books about the Middle Ages

May 22, 2010 @ 4:16 pm | Filed under:

Earlier this week, Phoebe asked me to recommend books about the middle ages. Jane and I went around the house pulling things off shelves. The timing was perfect, because I’ve been on a bit of a middle ages jag myself, ever since reading The Perilous Gard (so good! read it!!) which though set in Tudor times, at the cusp of Elizabeth’s reign, is a retelling of the medieval Tam Lin ballad. I’ve listened to perhaps a dozen different renditions of Tam Lin over the past few weeks; this one by Bob Hay and the Jolly Beggars.

Here’s a list of the middle-ages-related books we found around the house. There are many other wonderful books about the middle ages, of course. (Rosemary Sutcliffe and Susan Cooper novels come to mind.) Feel free to leave your own lists (or links to your lists) in the comments!

Disclaimer: Not all of these are appropriate for younger children.
** indicates my family’s favorites


Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey (YA novel; Arthurian legend–how “Lord Artos” got horses strong enough to carry knights in full regalia)
Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle
What Happened in Hamelin by Gloria Skurzynski (middle-grade novel; Pied Piper)**
The Minstrel in the Tower by Gloria Skurzynski (chapter book; brother & sister on perilous quest)
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (middle grade novel; knighthood, woodcarving; battle)**
The Great and Terrible Quest by Margaret Lovett
The Apple and the Arrow by Mary & Conrad Buff (William Tell)
Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray**
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager (set in 20th century, but the children wind up inside the Ivanhoe story, sort of)**
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg (middle-grade novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of King Richard the Lion Heart and King John)
Catherine Called Birdyby Karen Cushman
CLASSICAL MEDIEVAL STORIES including Arthurian tales

Medieval Romances edited by Roger Sherman Loomis & Laura Hibbard Loomis (Perceval, Tristan & Isolt, Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, etc; this was the text for my college Medieval Lit class & has a highly quotable intro, which I shall indeed quote in the next post)
Favorite Medieval Tales by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Troy Howell (Finn Maccoul, Beowulf, Arthur, Song of Roland, Sir Gawain & the Green Knight; Robin Hood, Chanticleer)**
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle
The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White (Arthur)**
The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck (based on the Malory)
The Story of King Arthur by Tom Crawford (Dover Children’s Classics)
The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer (of course!!)


The Story of the World, Vol. 2: The Middle Ages by Susan Wise Bauer
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
Living Long Ago (Usborne Books, lots of pictures: clothes, customs, housing)
Famous Men of the Middle Ages by John H. Haaren & A. B. Poland (Attila the Hun, Barbarossa, Clovis, Justinian, etc)**
A Medieval Feast by Aliki (picture book)**
The Life of King Alfred by Asser, Bishop of Sherborne (written in Latin around 888AD, translated by J.A. Giles)

NONFICTION, SORT OF (contains legend or considerable fictionalization)

Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall
The Sailor Who Captured the Sea by Deborah Nourse Lattimore (picture book: Book of Kells; illuminated manuscripts; monasteries; Vikings attack Ireland) (This maybe belongs just under fiction)


Around the Year: Once Upon a Time Saints by Ethel Pochocki (not all the saints depicted here are medieval, but many are)
Our Island Saints by Amy Steedman
Patrick, Saint of Ireland by Tomie de Paola (picture book; early middle ages)
Tomie de Paola also did picture books about St Francis and Sts Benedict & Scholastica, but I couldn’t find those today)
Brigid’s Cloak by Bryce Milligan, illustrated by Helen Cann


Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (picture book; although St George predates the middle ages, the dragon legend comes from Spenser’s The Faerie Queen [1590] and is based on medieval writings–the Arthurian stories of Geoffrey of Monmouth [1136]; Hyman’s illustrations have borders reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts)
Chanticleer and the Fox by Barbara Cooney, based on the story from The Canterbury Tales**
Heckedy Peg by Don & Audrey Wood (picture book; fairy tale; setting is a medieval village)**
The Irish Cinder Lad by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Loretta Krupinski (picture book; Irish fairy tale; dragon, castle, princess)
The Three Sorrowful Tales of Erin by F.M. Pilkington (Irish fairy tales; Children of Lir)
The King of Ireland’s Son by Padraic Colum (novel-length Irish folk tale)**


Twain’s bio of St. Joan of Arc
Heaney’s translation of Beowulf
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Stories about Robin Hood (we have several versions

Good Sir Boy of Wonder

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18 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Melissa Wiley says:

    Mary, feel free to borrow any of these books! Beanie has taken an interest in heraldry, so we have a Dover coloring book on the way.

    This is a fun site for getting started: Shields, Knights, and Heraldry.

  2. Anne Marie says:

    You don’t have Avi’s CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD????????


  3. Penny in VT says:

    May I add A Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner?

    Great read.

    Great list!


  4. Melissa Wiley says:

    Oh, Penny, I LOVE that book! I looked at it on the shelf, but was thinking it was slightly post-middle-ages?

  5. kimberlee says:

    My guys really like the Allen French books – The Red Keep, The Lost Baron, and The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow. Pyle’s Men of Iron is also a favorite, as well as his Robin Hood and The Story of Sir Launcelot and The Sotry of the Champions of the Round Table. Oh, maybe I’d better get Josiah to post his own list- he just brought down a huge stack… 🙂

  6. Farrar says:

    I was going to suggest Avi’s two Crispin books, but I see someone beat me to it! I taught the first one to my middle school students years ago and it was great. Also, there’s Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, which won the Newbery a couple years ago, though that’s less my cup of tea. Oh, and Karen Cushman has two other titles about the Middle Ages – The Midwife’s Apprentice and Matilda Bone.

    Thanks for this! We’re homeschooling the middle ages next year and I’m already getting psyched for the plethora of read aloud possibilities!

  7. Farrar says:

    Oh, and somehow I forgot to mention my favorite, favorite YA medieval book – The Road to Damietta by Scott O’Dell, which is about the life of St. Francis.

  8. Sweetums5 says:


    Oh, I just love the costume of Good Sir Boy of Wonder! I am a new blogger and have enjoyed the posts on your blog. Just wanted to add that we have Samuel B. Harding’s “The Story of the Middle Ages,” which has provided us with a good overview of the period.

    My kids have also enjoyed Roger Lancelyn Green’s “Adventures of Robin Hood” as well as Howard Pyle’s version. Also love David Macaulay’s “Castle” and “Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction.”

    Lastly, 2 picture books on Illumination we’ve enjoyed:

    1. Bruce Robertson’s “Marguerite Makes a Book,” a story with wonderful illustrations, showing life in medieval Paris and illuminated manuscripts. A great introduction to the Middle Ages for children (especially girls).

    2. Illuminations by Jonathan Hunt

    A beautiful medieval alphabet book with ornately illuminated letters and decoration. Breathtaking illustrations! Recommended for older children.

    Blessings, Shelley

  9. MelanieB says:

    Serendipity! We’ve been reading the Hodges St George and the Dragon in the last week.

    And for her birthday this week Bella just got The Kitchen Knight, also by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. It’s an Arthurian tale, the story of the king’s nephew Sir Gareth and a proud lady and the fierce Red Knight. Gorgeous. It’s Bella’s new favorite book.

  10. Leslie says:

    Fantastic post!! Thank you!!

  11. Ellie says:

    You’re posts are remaining invisible again. This one, for about eighteen hours past the time you posted it, and I think there’s a new one? From about seven hours ago? Entitled: “Huh?” (I can see that it should be here, on another blogger’s reader list). Anyhoo, just thought I’d mention; I know it happens periodically …

  12. Melissa Wiley says:

    Ellie, thanks for the heads-up. This time at least I know what the trouble was. My webhost did a server upgrade in the middle of the night, which took things offline for a few hours. And afterward, somehow the date/time was reset, so that WordPress thought today was Jan. 2nd 2009. This post was automatically shifted to “scheduled” status instead of published.

    This morning, when I noticed this post had disappeared, I wrote that short “Huh?” post as a sort of test balloon—and it appeared in the archives for Jan 2009. LOL. After I figured out what the problem was, I deleted the Huh post and my webhost fixed the date issue. So we should be good to go now. 🙂

  13. Ellie says:

    And maybe I’ll learn to spell!! Your, not you’re. *eye-roll*

    You know? I don’t think I want to go back to January 2nd, 2009. Goodness, what a notion — wonder if I’d be allowed to change anything .. ?

  14. Emily J says:

    We read Mariol Trevor’s Sun Faster, Sun Slower not too long ago – not strictly Middle Ages, just a stop in Medieval England on a fast flight through history. Loved it!

  15. mary grimm says:

    Thank you for this!
    I will be so helpful when we start the Story of the World middle ages…..

    Love the knight.

  16. mary grimm says:

    Oh, way too tired and didn’t proofread my comment….

    “IT will be so helpful…..”

    ugh, to bed go I….

    love and love