We Recommend: Books Set in the Middle Ages

It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation? Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good suggestions are in the comments.

We're having a mini-run of We Recommends here, which is fun for us, and (we hope) helpful to someone, somewhere. We love getting the requests, is the truth, so keep them coming. Here we go:

My son, aged very nearly 10, wants us to read some stories about the middle ages. There's Robin Hood, of course, and King Arthur. Beyond that, what do you suggest? To give you a target range, his desert island books so far include Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, My Side of the Mountain, The Princess and the Goblin, Swallows and Amazons, and My Family and Other Animals.   

This one is a little tricky for us. Middle ages? Says Wikipedia, that's 5th to the 15th Centuries, which is…broad. And, says Chestnut, the real question is, is he OK with magic? Or does he want realistic middle ages?

Given that we don't really know, we're just going to take a stab here with one both Chestnut and Diana have loved. (Though it was an interesting question, making me wonder a lot about just what realism means, exactly. Anyway, thoughts for another time.) Here's our pick:


Though, I mean, middle ages? Yeah sort of. But per Tamora Pierce's web site, these take place in a different universe, so that makes it a little tricky to call them really middle ages. I mean, I figure the "King Arthur" reference meant that The Once and Future King is already done. But oh! And I thought of another, and it's super-middle ages-y. Middle aged?


OK, that's what I got this sleepy evening.

But what I would really like, what I hope you guys can offer up in the comments, is a book set in the middle ages that's full of the sort of adventure it seems like this kid goes for. Anyone have an idea?

21 thoughts on “We Recommend: Books Set in the Middle Ages

  1. The Door in the Wall by marguerite deangeli? The book “the sword in the stone” (the edition from before Disney made it a movie?)
    I have always loved Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” sequence, which involve fantasy and magic and time shifting but really focus on King Arthur’s table and Merlin…


  2. My daughter read a book called “Crispin: Cross of Lead” this year. The author is Avi (no other name) and I believe there is a sequel. I did not read it, but it was set in the Middle Ages (or, like Tamora Pierce, had a Middle Ages-like setting anyway) and seemed pretty gripping.


  3. There’s also Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman. I second the recommendation of Crispin: Cross of Lead, as well as anything else by Avi. Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess, Page by Richard Platt is a lot of fun. If he doesn’t need something strictly historical, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo has lots of adventure in a medievalish setting.
    There are any number of the classic medieval stories cleaned up and simplified for kids. Some good ones are Beowulf: A Hero’s Tale Retold by James Rumford, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Michael Morpurgo and D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire.


  4. It’s more fantasy but it has all that middle ages feeling – Redwall – and if he likes it, there are lots and lots and lots of sequels.
    Or “A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver” by E. L. Konigsburg
    “The Great and Terrible Quest” by Margaret Lovett.
    Or back to fantasy, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.


  5. My son (now 15) says that he should look at Allen French who wrote “The Red Keep” – his books were out of print for a while but we got them out of the library and I think that they are back. Very swashbuckling.


  6. I enthusiastically recommend Rosemary Sutcliff–Knight’s Fee and The Witch’s Brat for the middle ages (although her Roman Britain novels are supurb. When I was that age, I loved The Gauntlet, by Ronald Welch–time travel back to medieval Wales. Ghost Knight, by Cornelia Funke, is another good time travel book.


  7. Cornelia Funke’s whole Inkheart series has that middle ages feeling even though the main character is modern day.
    I would also second the motion for Desperaux, which is a million times better than the movie.
    Is Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” no longer PC to read? I remember liking it as a child. I’m sure I missed all the satire about the nature of the Connecticut Yankee (which I assume there must have been).


  8. My son has been reading the “Ranger’s Apprentice” series which is set in a somewhat Middle Ages setting. Lots of action with bows and arrows and horses anyways…


  9. If you can find it, I’ll recommend Sheila Sancha’s book “Knight After Knight”. It’s a sweet and funny story, set in the Middle Ages, and illustrated by the author, I think. I read it as a child, but haven’t been able to find it as an adult, unfortunately.


  10. The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen is Middle Age(ish) and very good I haven’t read the second one yet, The Runaway King, but I am hopeful!


  11. I have to push for Gerald Morris’ The Squire’s Tale series–based on Arthurian Legend, with humor, lots of action, and great fantasy elements. The first four books (of ten) are awesome.


  12. The Once and Future King is brilliant.
    I would also recommend Barbara Leonie Picard’s book One is One, which is fantastic though (warning!) it is sad, too.
    And then there’s Kevin Crossley-Holland’s trilogy that starts with The Seeing Stone. I’ve only read the first, but I remember it as being exceptional and I really need to find and read the second and third volumes.


  13. There’s also ‘Adam of the road’ by Elizabeth Gray Vining. I read it to my class, and although it was slow-ish and long-ish and meandering (which makes perfect sense, as Adam is a minstrel), we loved it.


  14. Thanks, Erica! The Door in the Wall looks like a great recommendation! And Susan Cooper is terrific — my son was too young when we tried The Dark is Rising a year or two ago, and then I forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder!


  15. These suggestions all sound great, Beth, thanks! I’ve put a hold on Tobias Burgess at the library. The practical living aspect of it sounds like a fit for my son. And we’re looking forward to following the other leads on your list!


  16. E.L.Konigsburg’s Mixed-Up Files is one of my sons favourites — so we’ll definitely check out A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver. We haven’t really read much fantasy: my son is coming to reading in his own good time, and in the meantime all his reading is actually me reading aloud. So fantasy tends to slide down the list. But Lloyd Alexander, and The Tale of Despereaux which Beth recommended above, sound like good places to start. Thank you, Anne!


  17. These sound great, Charlotte! I’d forgotten about Rosemary Sutcliff. As for time travel, I always loved it — let’s see if my son enjoys it too!


  18. I second many of the above suggestions. Here are two older titles that your son might like they are written in archaic (or possibly fake archaic) language. Both are by Howard Pyle: “Otto of the Silver Hand” and “Men of Iron.” they are also illustrated by the author. Both books are in print in affordable Dover editions.


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