Monday, August 06, 2012

Introducing Youngsters to Medieval Classics

In a previous blog post, I shared with you some of my favorite titles for introducing pieces of ancient literature to younger readers. As we talked about before works like Homer's Iliad and The Gallic Wars by Julius Casear can be intimidating and overwhelming when approached for the first time. Thankfully there are wonderful adaptions available for parents and teachers who want to expose their children and students to these works before high school and college. Today I am going to list some of my favorite adaptations of medieval works. By making your children familiar with the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare and other great writers you are giving them excellent tools for understanding the original works later on. Let's get started:

One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine McCaughrean
McCaughrean's adaptations of the fantastical Arabian nights stories opens a world of intrigue and adventure to readers aged 10 and up. Based on stories from Persia, India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Middle East your student will learn about the courageous and clever Shahrazad who says off a death sentence with her fantastical stories. You'll hear about the adventures of Sinbad and Ali Baba and Aladdin. Dating from the 10th Century, these stories offer a window into the world of the medieval Middle East, telling much about the beliefs of the people who valued these tales. McCaughrean's version eliminates some of the more sensual stories, favoring those appropriate for youngsters. 

Beowulf adapted by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman 
Not only is this adaptation of the oldest English epic poem beautifully written, its illustrations communicate all the drama and color of this exciting tale. Students will learn of the brave and young Beowulf and his battle against the hideous terror Grendel. Preserving much of the lyrical quality of the original, Morpurgo's version is engaging, fun, and expertly crafted. Appropriate for ages 8 and up. Some of the illustrations do portray bloodshed so it may be worth previewing the title for your children. 

Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Barbara Cohen and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
It can rightly be said that it is thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer that the English language enjoys the prominence is does today. Chaucer took a language formerly thought of as vulgar and common and elevated it to a literary level. His tales are part of our language heritage as are many of the words we commonly use. Chaucer invented about 2000 English words! But many parents and teacher have resisted teaching Chaucer due to the fact that many of his tales are crude and contain material inappropriate for children. Thanks to Barbara Cohen's wonderful version of several of the Canterbury Tales young people can now enjoy the funny and lively stories. The book includes The Nun's Priest's Tale, The Pardoner's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Tale as well as The Franklin's Tale. These tales give life and color to medieval England and are wonderfully entertaining. I remember reading these stories and pouring over the details of Trina Schart Hyman's gorgeous illustrations. This book even accompanied me to college where I would refer to it when I ran into confusion reading the originals! This version is only available in hardback and is pricey but BFB is offering it for a discount here

Chanticleer and the Fox by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted and illustrated by Barbara Cooney
One of Chaucer's most famous stories is that of the proud rooster Chanticleer. Cooney turns this wise tale into a wonderful children's book appropriate for little ones 5 and up. Her illustrations of the cocky cock and foxy fox earned her a Caldecott medal and make this a modern classic. 

Another English classic these tales are firmly established in the lexicon of western folklore. The stories of the sword in the stone, brave Sir Galahad, Lancelot, the Holy Grail–they're all familiar to us but many have not actually read the stories based on Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur and other medieval classics. Roger Lancelyn Green's well-loved version preserves the frantic pace and neck-break randomness of the stories while providing readers with all the intrigue of the dark and foreboding forests of England. A must for all who are interested in medieval literature. 

Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
Undoubtedly the best-know and best-loved adaptation of Shakespeare's writings, the Lamb's version is a classic in and of itself. Originally published in 1807 this book has been introducing young readers to the joys of Shakespeare for over 200 years! Preserving the intricate plot-lines, brilliant characterization, and insight into the human condition that makes Shakespeare so great, this is the best resource for introducing the Bard to your students and children. It is even an excellent tool for getting more out of the original versions! Students will be able to read 21 of Shakespeare's greatest plays in prose without having to worry about keeping lines and characters straight. If you have never read Shakespeare yourself, read this first. It makes the originals so much more accessible!  

I hope you find this list helpful! I would love to hear about any adaptations you've particularly enjoyed or stories of using these resources to help open up the world of medieval literature to your children. 

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