CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 39. . . .June 6, 2014
Think of each of the six books in the "Graphic Medieval History" series as being a kind of history sandwich. One of the sandwich's two slices of bread appears at the beginning of the book and consists of four pages of somewhat dry, once-over-lightly factual history. These pages usually include at least one map as well as numerous colour photographs. A thinner two-page bread slice, also illustrated, is found at the book’s end. In general terms, the first history "slice" sets up the book’s particular focus while the closing "slice" provides a conclusion to the topic. The sandwich's filling consists of a retelling of three historical events connected to the topic, with each being told in graphic novel style. As is the case with many actual sandwiches, it is the filling in the "Graphic Medieval History” series sandwich that will likely be most "tasty" to middle school readers.
Middle school viewers of the Vikings TV series on the “History” channel will already be aware of the warrior qualities of the Norsemen, and it is this war-like aspect of the Vikings that features prominently in The Dark Ages and the Vikings as the three featured historical events are the 793 raid on Lindisfarne and the Battles of Edington in 878 and Hastings in 1066.
Between 1095 and 1272, there were some seven Christian crusades that attempted, with varying degrees of success, to free the Holy Land from Muslim control. The illustrated graphic contents of Crusades only attempt to deal with a small portion of these crusades, specifically the 1099 siege of Jerusalem, the 1187 Battle of Hattin, and the 1191 defense of Jaffa. Because knights played such a prominent role in the Crusades, this book does connect in some ways with Knights.
Of the half dozen titles in the “Graphic Medieval History” series, Rebellion & Revolt is, perhaps, the weakest, and that is principally because its contents will likely be the most unfamiliar to middle schoolers. I believe many, if not most, 10 to13-year-olds have had some passing contact, however brief, with the broad subject matter of the other five books in the series. However, the 1297 Battle of Stirling Bridge, the 1381 standoff at Smithfield and the 1402 Battle of Bryn that are used to exemplify the civil unrest of the period will not readily resonate with the book’s intended audience. Not even a thoughtful reading of this book’s “bread” sections will provide a sufficient context for understanding the significance of these three happenings.
Animated films like Frozen may cause today’s youth to think of castles as being romantic structures whose wealthy occupants were engaged in endless rounds of feasting, dancing and other entertainments. The contents of Castles will hopefully dispel such notions and cause middle schoolers to see castles for what they were originally - defensive, fort-like structures as opposed to being posh homes for royalty. The 1203 siege of the castle at Chateau Gaillard, the 1216 siege of Dover Castle and the 1294 attack on castle at Caernarfon in Wales are utilized by author Jeffrey to show the roles castles played in the period’s warfare. The writing and illustrations clearly portray how enemies would attempt to breach the castles’ walls and the defensive measures that would be taken by the castles’ occupants. The book’s opening incident, the siege of the castle at Chateau Gaillard, offers readers an interesting twist. While the French forces had unsuccessfully utilized the traditional attacking methods of the period, they gained victory when a lowly infantryman identified the castle’s weak spot - the garderobes, or toilet exits on one of the castle walls. Under the cover of darkness, French troops stretched ladders up to these excrement and urine-coated holes and then crawled through them and so entered the castle. Victory is victory no matter how badly one might smell.
Knights may be somewhat disappointing to those readers who approach this book with the expectation that its contents were going to deal with such things as how one became a knight, the details of knights’ weapons and their participation in jousting tournaments. Though a bit of such subject matter is touched upon in the book’s “bread” portions, the graphic novel segments of the book portray knights in action as the “battle tanks” of their time. Specifically, the 1415 Battle of Agincourt, the 1429 Siege of Orleans and the 1485 Battle of Bosworth provide the examples of knights functioning in combat.
The three incidents featured in The Black Death span a very narrow time period, the months between November, 1347 and April, 1348 as the Plague came to continental Europe, then to England and London. Middle schoolers will likely be fascinated by some of this book’s decidedly morbid facts, including the information that, before retreating, Tartar warriors who had been besieging a European-ruled fort on the Black Sea catapulted their plague dead and dying into the fort. The soldiers inside the fort then brought the Black Death back to Europe with them. By the time the plague reached London, “it was at the peak of its killing power”, and half of the city’s population died.
The artwork supplied by Spender, Riley and Poluzzi for the graphic novel portions of the six books is excellent and captures the drama and action well. As appears to be standard practice in Crabtree books, each book closes with a "Glossary" and an "Index". While the two-page glossary is useful, the index is really much less necessary.
It's highly doubtful that most middle school students will actually learn much about Medieval history from this sextet of titles, but the graphic novel portions should certainly stimulate some interest in history. A purchase more to motivate than to teach!
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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.