What would it be like to live in Europe sometime between five- and nine-hundred years ago? We now call that time the Middle Ages between the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome and our own modern age. It was a time of knights and castles of elegant ladies and traveling minstrels, but it was also a time of great poverty and warfare. What would it be like to be alive then and there? Here are some aids for your imagination:
Knights & Castles: Exploring History Through Art by Alex Martin
If you like pictures this is a good place to start. This is life in the middle ages as pictured by artists who lived then with explanations by a modern writer. The paintings show what it was like to live as a knight or a farmer or a child. In spite of the title, there’s not a lot about castles. Nevertheless, it's a great book for people who learn by seeing.
Knights & Castles: 50 Hands-On Activities to Experience the Middle Ages by Avery Hart and Paul Mantell
If you prefer learning by doing, this book is lots of fun, and there’s more about castles in it, including how to make one out of cardboard. In fact there is more about medieval life in this book that you can learn by making things: a coat of arms, a helmet and sword, an hourglass, a musical instrument or a necklace, and by playing games. There are also rhymes and songs to learn and a script and stage directions for “St. George and the Dragon: a Short Dramatic Comedy with Two Excellent Fight Scenes.”
And if you enjoy the St. George play, you’ll also like: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village  written by school librarian Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Robert Byrd. It’s a series of monologues and two dialogs that introduces the lives of twenty-three children near an English manor in 1255. There’s also information on crop rotation, pilgrimage, the Crusades, Jews in medieval society and the legal status of runaways. Schlitz said she wrote them so that everyone in the class could be a star “for three minutes at least.” It's a great way to learn things if you like hearing them spoken aloud.
If you like a good story, here are three good authors' answers to the question, "What would it be like to be alive then and there?"
Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
Adam and his father are traveling minstrels. In 1294 they get to travel all over England meeting and entertaining all sorts of people with harp, viol, songs and tales. Then Adam’s pet spaniel is stolen, and when he goes after the thief Adam gets separated from his father, and has to travel the road alone.
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
Robin awakes struck with a crippling disease. He can’t move his legs. Even though he is the son of a knight, the servants have deserted him. He is abandoned and alone in the castle. He feels surrounded by a wall that he can’t get through. Fortunately he is found by Brother Luke who takes him to the monastery. There Robin learns to carve wood and to read and write. And Brother Luke patiently shows him how to find ways to get through difficulties.
The Midwife's Apprentice  by Karen Cushman
Brat is a homeless orphan when we first meet her. She’s so cold at night that she crawls into a pile of animal droppings, just to stay warm. In the morning she begs a job and a place to stay from Jane the village midwife. Jane renames her Dung Beetle, Beetle for short. Jane is not an easy mistress. She’s no Brother Luke. She’s sharp-witted and sharp-tongued, but Brat has no other place in the world. And Jane does teach her how to keep at it to overcome hardship.