CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 2004
Author Lynne Elliot's four contributions to Crabtree Press's “The Medieval World” history series equal the high standards set by Kay Eastwood and Tara Steele (reviewed in CM, Volume X, Number 12, February 13, 2004). Even more than the other contributors, Elliot focuses upon the hierarchical structure of life during medieval times. Although medieval society was complex, every facet of existence was influenced by an individual's place in the feudal pyramid: social status, choice of occupation, where they lived and choice of home, type of clothes, the food and spices they used, and the games they played.
Each book begins with a very useful timeline and ends with an adequate glossary and index. In the Children and Games in the Middle Ages' timeline, we learn that the first free elementary school appeared in England's towns circa 1000; however, it took until approximately 1200 for the first free schools to open in villages. Toy making became a full time trade in Germany, circa 1400, and candy sticks were made in Venice in the 1470s. Perhaps this tells us about a change in attitudes toward children? In Clothing in the Middle Ages, we see that the first craft guilds were organized in the 1100s, that trousers were introduced in the 1200s; however, buttons did not make their appearance until the 1300's.
The titles are well organized, follow a familiar format, are nicely illustrated and packed with information that should interest students, In Food and Feasts in the Middle Ages, students are introduced to the ideas medieval people had about foods, how they were prepared, eating habits, cleanliness, or the proper hierarchical seating arrangements in the lord's great dining hall. They will see, though, that eating habits changed as new foods and spices were introduced. Trade routes opened to the Orient, new foods were introduced from Spain and the Middle East following the crusades, along established pilgrimage routes, and were fostered by developments in ship construction which allowed for safer and easier travel. This information crosses over nicely and is expanded in Medieval Towns, Trade, and Travel, which not only shows how life was lived in towns but also how it became increasingly varied and complex as the period developed. This is also seen in the other titles, whether they concern warfare, life in castles or religious life.
Some may believe that this series on medieval history paints too rosy a picture of a time that was generally "nasty brutish and short." There is no shortage of titles available which dwell on the arcane and coarser elements of life in the Middle Ages (see Archers, Alchemist and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed, CM, Volume X, Number 5, October 31, 2003); however, in balance the 10 books create a perfectly adequate package that will augment any elementary or middle school libraries or fill-out a teacher's personal collection.
Ian Stewart teaches at David Livingstone School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.