Tuesday, April 21, 2015
The Crusades: Jennifer Bohnhoff Shares Exciting Titles for Middle Grade Readers
For many middle grade readers, the Middle Ages were exciting times! Knights on horseback! Damsels in distress! Dragons! (Forget the dragons. Contrary to popular opinion, there were no more dragons in Europe during the Middle Ages than there are now.)
One of the most exciting of times for readers of Medieval fiction is the Crusades. In 1095, Emperor Alexius I of Byzantium asked Pope Urban II for help in fighting the Seljuk Turks. Pope Urban promised forgiveness of sins for any who accepted the mission - a great excuse to act badly! The Crusade also promised an exciting, adventurous trip to the exotic Middle East and a chance to acquire lands and plunder, so it wasn't surprising that the Pope’s plea met with a tremendous response.
Urban may never have intended for the Crusaders to recapture the Holy Land from Muslims. It is hard to know, since all transcripts of his speech date from years after the event. Regardless, controlling the Holy Lands became the primary goal of Crusades for the next two hundred years.
The Third Crusade is the one that receives the most literary attention, primarily because of the star power of Richard the Lionheart, the noblest and most chivalric king of England, and Saladin, the greatest of the Moslem leaders. Knights Templars, who are both warrior knight and religious monks and the favorite characters of medieval conspiracy theories, also figure prominently in literature about the Crusades. Middle grade readers who want to know more about the Crusades might consider reading these novels:
Nathan, the main character in my newest novel, On Fledgling Wings, is the son of a knight who crusaded with Richard the Lionheart. His father is cold and distant, but that doesn’t stop Nathan from wishing that he could follow in his heroic father’s footsteps.
Catherine Jinks has written a series of four books about a young boy who is squire to a Templar Knight. Pagan’s Crusade: Book One of the Pagan Chronicles is set in Jerusalem prior to Saladin’s taking of the city.
In The Book of the Lion, by Michael Cadnum, a young man named Edmund is forced to join the forces of Richard the Lionheart on the Third Crusade. Edmund journeys to the Middle East, where he witnesses brutality, compassion and courage.
Another book set during the Third Crusade is The Youngest Templar by Michael Spradlin. In it, the orphan Tristan must bring the most sacred of Christian relics, the Holy Grail, to Britain.
Elizabeth Laird’s Crusade focuses on two boys, one a Christian and the other a Muslim, during the Third Crusade.
Sylvie Weil’s My Guardian Angel is not set in the Holy Lands. This story considers the plight of Jews in the Rhine Valley at the hands of crusaders from the First Crusade.
In The Ramsay Scallop by Frances Temple, a 14 year old girl discovers that her fiance, Thomas is not the same man he was when he returns from Crusade. Broken and disillusioned from years of fighting, he finds the very idea of marriage and lordship overwhelming. The village priest sends them on religious pilgrimage, on which they meet other pilgrims who help them reexamine their lives.
Adventure, action, love, prejudice, clashes of culture and questions of morality: there's something for every middle grade reader in a book about the Crusades. Did I leave one of your favorite reads off the list? I'd love to hear from you!
Jennifer Bohnhoff is a 7th grade Social Studies teacher and the author of three historical fiction books for middle grade readers. For more information, go to www.jenniferbohnhoff.com.