This year we've been studying the Middle Ages in history. While I won't say we use the Unit Study method in our home, I'm always looking for good books that fit our historical studies because it can bring the period so much more to life than a textbook. My latest find came during our review of Salem Ridge Press.
For Merrie England ($10.95, softcover) is one of five titles by Emma Leslie the vendor refers to as the "Junior Church History series" for ages 8+ (I previously reviewed Soldier Fritz from the same series). The story's setting is England during the Hundred Years War with France, so it falls towards the end of the Middle Ages. Two Brothers, Roger and Tom, set off on differing paths to help England during the war. Roger runs away to become an archer; Tom, younger and lame, is given the opportunity to learn the art of weaving wool into cloth. The story focuses more on Tom and his learning to weave, learning to walk, and learning the God desires a personal relationship with him.
I read this book aloud to my 10 year old son. He could have read most of it himself --archaic terms are defined at the bottom of the pages and I had no concerns that there would be anything that needed to be edited/sanitized for language, sexuality, etc. Instead as I read, he was having so much fun acting as an archer with his PVC bow & arrow set. That's not to say he wasn't engaged in the story. I was constantly interrupted with commentary and questions: "Don't they know how we can pray directly to God and not go through saints?" "Why do they think Tom is helpless just because he has weak legs?" "If Tom would just look ahead he could see his brother ahead in the line!" In the end, he did read the last chapter on his own because I developed laryngitis and he couldn't stand wondering if the brothers would ever meet again.
I feel that Salem Ridge Press choice of labeling these books as "church history" is doing them a great disservice. Yes, they are written from a Protestant Christian worldview and the characters ofter speak about God, prayer, and the saints, but it is not the main focus of the story. So if you were truly looking for a book on what has happening in the Church during the Middle Ages, you'd probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you're looking for a book to bring the Middle Ages to life, you might pass this book by thinking its just about the church. Following Tom's journey), we picked up plenty of new information on life in the Middle Ages. We learned that towns rang curfew bells when everyone had to return home, stop talking , and put out their fires. We learned people slept on straw on the floor--even in the castle. We learned about traveling in large groups for safety from bandits and highwaymen.
Yesterday I posted that 80 percent of books have been published since 1980 and 80 percent of those would have been better left as trees. For Merrie England was first published in 1890 and its definitely worth a tree or two.