Medieval history

What we’ve done already

Medieval history topics/people to consider studying

This list is not at all exhaustive! This are just ideas to help you (or me!) think about what to include in a year of study. It also provides ideas to look for when browsing books at the local library, book stores, etc.

  • If you are in the Americas, this is a good time to study the local pre-contact indigenous cultures of your region (we study some element of Native American history or culture every year in our house)

Just living medieval history book ideas

I’ve sorted these into broad maturity categories (elementary, middle/high school, upper high school/parent), but I encourage you to gauge whether an excellent book might be suitable to read aloud with many children. Truly living books often have interest well beyond their “intended” audience age level, especially if read aloud. Some of these are non-fiction history spines or support texts; others are literature from the era. I aim to have a mix of all of these in our year!

Elementary level books

  • History “spines”
    • Story of the World, vol. 2 by Susan Wise Bauer — This is the series we’ve been using as a history spine for world history the first time we go through the sequence. The books are not perfect. They tackle large swaths of history, and as a result the books can feel like they jump all over the place. But the ideas are current with contemporary thoughts about ancient peoples, and they provide children with the concepts and names to start contextualizing how historical events and people “fit together.” The quality of the text is good — not excellent, but definitely good. At times, we’ve also listened to these in the car rather than reading them aloud — they are available as audio books read by Jim Weiss.
    • Turtle Island: The Story of North America’s First People by Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger — I recommend finding a quality book about whatever indigenous group lived where you live now, but this is a highly recommended book covering the bigger picture of the first people in North America.
  • History “support” texts
    • Castle Diary by Richard Platt — My kids love this series of “diary” books. Platt has intentionally included a lot of accurate historical details into the simple stories about fictional children. Look for the editions that are richly illustrated.
    • Saladin: Noble Prince of Islam and Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley — We love all of Diane Stanley’s biographies, which are well researched, high readable, and have beautiful illustrations.
    • Castle and Cathedral by David Macaulay — Detailed architectural drawings and stories about the building of the castles and cathedrals in medieval Europe.
    • Adventures on the Silk Road by Priscilla Galloway and Dawn Hunter — Tells the story of the Silk Road through three individual silk road travelers: Chinese Buddhist Xuanzang, Genghis Khan, and of course Marco Polo.
    • Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 by Charles C. Mann — A young person’s adaptation of Mann’s 1491. Excellent descriptions of the American civilizations that thrived before contact.
  • Literature from the era
    • Beowolf: A New Telling by Robert Nye — or other version
    • The Canterbury Tales — Many versions have been written for younger audiences. Check out options by Geraldine McCaughrean or Hieatt.
    • The Arabian Nights — Again, many options have been written for younger audiences. Check out these authors: Geraldine McCaughrean or N.J. Dawood.
    • King Arthur tales — So many options! Howard Pyle, Roger Green, among others.
    • Robinhood tales — So many options!
    • The Tale of Genji — 11th century Japanese epic. Look for a translation for younger readers.

Middle/high school level books

  • History “spines”
    • The Way People Live series by Lucent Books — There are many options to choose from in this series, including many about ancient history (Life During the Middle Ages, Life Among the Samurai, Life During the Crusades, Life in Genghis Khan’s Mongolia, and more). The books are each written by a single author and have a clear narrative flow that is usually very engaging, with a focus on daily life and people in the context of big historical events. The stated goal of the series is to discover “the humanity in us all” and to replace stereotypes with accurate information about pockets of human culture. To use these as “spines,” I would schedule one or two per term (so three to six for the year) and pair them with a history timeline to contextualize how the pieces fit together.
  • History “support” texts
    • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse — Not from the era or even an authentic Buddhist text, but this is an influential 20th century novel that tells the story of the Buddha. This is a book I’d like my children to read, but there are many wonderful options to choose from about the founding of Buddhism.
  • Literature from the era
    • See items in elementary book list. I would likely make any of these options a read aloud for all of us to share together and would choose an edition that seems appropriate for all of us.

“Upper high school/parent” level books

  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americans Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann