Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Twelve Bright Trumpets and Augustine Came to Kent

We started our Middle Ages reading with Margaret Leighton's Twelve Bright Trumpets. It consists of twelve fictional stories, set in the Middle Ages. Real historical figures drop in and are accurately depicted, but the main action centers on young people of the time. This would, I thought, serve as a nice introductory piece for our reading this year.

We do like the book, and the girls were enjoying the stories. But I felt I'd dropped it into the wrong slot in our reading schedule. There was just enough confusion ("What year are we in again?") that I decided we'll go back to this one at the end of the year. Then, certain stories will make more sense ("Oh, yeah! I remember when we read about Charlemagne!") and Twelve Bright Trumpets will serve to reinforce our other reading, rather than introduce us to it.

From there, we moved on to Augustine Came to Kent by Barbara Willard. We all enjoyed this one quite a lot. Set in the year 597, it follows the life of young Wolf, who is being raised in Rome after his father, a former slave, was freed by Pope Gregory. Now, Wolf longs to accompany his father and the admired monk, Augustine, on a Christian mission to the land of their birth, England. Once they've landed, Wolf encounters foreign speech, strange beliefs and unsettling danger. He also finds a lifelong friend.

Willard has a nice way of roping the young reader in fairly quickly, creating concern for her characters. At the same time, the prominence of Pope Gregory and Augustine (later bishop of Canterbury) in this story helped to fix the time period in the girls' minds. Highly recommended, and the girls' only complaint was that Wolf was not a girl.

We've just begun Son of Charlemagne, also by Barbara Willard. And, though they're enjoying it so far, they're still wishing for a female protagonist.

They'll have to wait, I think, for The Striped Ships by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. According to Kathryn the Bookworm (see the comments of this post), it's told from the perspective of a young Saxon girl. I recently ordered a used copy of it, so my girls will eventually get their wish and might stop asking me, "Why are the Middle Ages all about boys?"

Just one other quick note: the girls are loving their Color Your Own Book of Kells.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure that Joel would enjoy some of those "boy stories". Do you think they are appropriate for him? What do you think?

Liz said...

Don't miss reading at least snippets of G.K. Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse to them (all about King Alfred). Also Anne and Betsy at least might enjoy listening to The Dream of the Rood (it's probably well over Ramona's head). Having just been steeped in that Old English period (I'm having to tear myself away from it to turn to Dante), I am so incredibly in awe of how Christian and Catholic the latter part of the first century English were (Augustine et. all did their work well!). There's a richness in some of their poetry that makes our own era seem poverty stricken by comparison.

Of course, if you are a Tolkien lover there is so much in his work that resonates of his familiarity with the Anglo-Saxons. There's enough critical literature out there on the connections between the two to keep you busy for a very long time (as well as eating into the household accounts at an alarming rate were it not for a very good library and an alumni library card!).

I wish I'd known about Willard when my kids were that age. We ended up reading Donna Fletcher Crowe's Glastonbury which was good, but aimed at a slightly older audience, hence needed a bit of reader censoring in places.

I'd totally envy you what you're doing except that at the moment I seem to be treading similar paths with my lit girls.

Rebecca said...

For a female protagonist why not a bio of Joan of Arc? I can't recommend one that I've read, but Mark Twain considered his book on Joan of Arc his best work.

Anonymous said...

You can read The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc online here