10 living books for studying the Middle Ages
Medieval times was our favourite era to study. There are so many tangents from the early church to Vikings, knights and chivalry to kings and queens and more. We read so many great living books for this time period, it is hard to pin down just 10 favourites. There is mostly historical fiction in this list, but I would encourage you to seek out as many biographies as you can.
I hope there are some books here you can add to your own list. Please share your favourites in the comments below so we can grow this list, otherwise I am tempted to put in a whole lot more than 10.
Marguerite assists her father, Jacques, in his craft of illuminating manuscripts for the French nobility. His commission for Lady Isabelle is running close to a deadline. You’ll follow Margeurite in her efforts to acquire all that she needs to complete the commission, learning about tools, ingredients for paints and more. This book is heavily illustrated and a delightful read.
by Allen French
If you or your kids are not hooked on vikings yet, this book will do it. We couldn’t put it down.
Set around 1010 in Iceland, The Story of Rolf and the Viking’s Bow is told in classic Icelandic saga style – “direct, brief, exact, and concerned to establish a historical context”. The story centres around feuding families, righting wrongs, the never ending generational blood-feud acts of vengeance and how this practice pans out in a newly Christian Iceland.
At 16, when his father is killed, Rolf becomes an outlaw. The story follows Rolf and his many adventures through slavery, fighting the baresarks, traversing rugged terrain in snowstorms, and more. Exciting as it is, the story is deeper than just action and adventure. It follows the theme of pagan versus Christian values, pride and forgiveness, and how Rolf comes to terms with his enemies. Does the blood feud come to an end? Whatever the outcome, along the way you’ll see Rolf’s character develop, learn about the history of the oldest parliament in the world, all while on the edge of your seat.
by Cynthia Harnett
We have loved all of Cynthia Harnett’s books. Not only is she a great writer, but she is a talented artist. Her books are laced with drawings of scenes and objects described in the stories.
The Wool Pack will educate you about the wool trade in the Cotswolds, England during the late 1400’s. It follows the mystery surrounding a plot to ruin Nicholas’ uncle, a wealthy wool merchant.
The Wool Pack is, admittedly, hard to find now. You can get it secondhand at abebooks or on Amazon – keep an eye out for it.
by Thea Beckman
Rolf goes back in time to the Middle Ages and upon trying to find his way back to the present, he gets involved in the Children’s Crusade. This book is fascinating yet frustrating as we know what the outcome is. All the same, the action is distracting enough to keep interest high. This is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking book. It paints the realities of the Children’s Crusade while still being suitable for kids to read. We read this one aloud together and thoroughly enjoyed it.
by Harold Lamb
The all-sweeping storm that was Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde should not be overlooked when stuydying Europe’s Middle Ages. Afterall, he conquered a huge area from Asia to well into Europe. The terror anticipated and the havoc wreaked changed the world.
However terrifying Genghis Khan was to those he conquered, this book paints a very human picture of the man and his tribe. Interesting and a nice change from monks, knights and castles.
It’s mostly only available second hand, and plentiful on abebooks.
The story of King John and the events leading up to one of the most important documents ever penned and which would significantly affect the development of the West. You can’t really study the Middle Ages without reading about such a magnanimous event, and this book makes it wonderfully accessible to children.
While you’re at it, why not also read about contemporaries like Robin Hood and Eleanor of Aquitaine to paint a more detailed picture of the times.
by Henry Gilbert
Marguerite De Angeli writes delightful books, The Door in the Wall being a classic and well known one. The historical value wasn’t the only reason we liked this book but more the character building story of triumph. Medieval times is the backdrop, but still rich in detail, of a boy whose life is seemingly made useless, turned to great good, usefulness and triumph.
A lovely book especially for younger to mid primary aged children, though I’m sure all you parents will love it too. There is a Progeny Press Literature Guide for this book.
I’m taking a punt here. We read a great book about King Alfred, and I think it was a Bethlehem Books title, but I can’t locate it in my myriad of books, so can’t say for sure. King Alfred’s achievements and his congenial nature make his biography a must read. He ruled during a time fraught with superstition and yet, his Christian beliefs spurred on his many important personal and national accomplishments. Like his designing of naval ships that enabled England to defeat the Danes.
He was also educated by his mother. Cool.
Historical fiction is certainly helpful when studying different eras, but biographies bring you the real deal. There are many characters of Medieval times worth reading about, but make this man’s life near the top of your list.
You can get the ebook from Bethlehem Books.
by Elizabeth Janet Gray
The story of Adam, a minstrel’s son, on a journey to find his missing father and dog. Adventures and songs aplenty! An engaging and well written book that we read through rather quickly. Need I say more.
by Christine Miller
This is the spine book we used, which covers the whole era of the Middle Ages, perfect for use with Truthquest History and as a background for all the other books above. You can get it in ebook or hard copy format direct from the publisher Nothing New Press.
Moving on from the Middle Ages, you might want to check out our list of living books for the Renaissance and Reformation.