Lorna MacDonald Czarnota,
Medieval Tales That
Kids Can Read & Tell

(August House, 2000)

Lorna MacDonald Czarnota retells the bare bones of stories from medieval legend and history in Medieval Tales That Kids Can Read & Tell, a book designed to inspire young people to develop the stories more fully on their own.

Czarnota targets 12 figures: William Tell, Robert Bruce, Robin Hood, Joan of Arc, King Arthur (and the Knights of the Round Table), Duke Lech, Beowulf, Charlemagne (and Roland), Saladin, Alexander the Great, Eleanor of Aquitane and Boudicca. (Alexander the Great is not considered a medieval figure, but Czarnota explains that he might have been a subject for storytellers.) For each she presents one or more episodes from that person's life or story, followed with tips for telling and some historical background on the tale. A section at the end goes into more detail about being a medieval storyteller, including directions for making a simple tunic. She covers the importance of using language which, if not precisely period, is not modern, strictly speaking, as well as how viewpoint can affect the way one tells a story.

By presenting only the basics of the stories, Czarnota ensures that the young teller will not get bogged down in the details of the story. In some of the stories, however, the bones are a little too bare, such as the story of the Battle of Orleans in the section on Joan of Arc. The anecdote is very sketchy without a lot on which to build, and a novice teller might be frustrated in his or her attempt to develop the tale. Czarnota does provide source notes for her stories; unfortunately, many of the sources are much older and may be out of print or inaccessible to younger students.

The book has many strengths, with a brilliant range in the stories. Czarnota goes beyond the typical in her search for subjects; certainly Boudicca, Duke Lech of Poland and Eleanor of Aquitaine represent fresh and fertile ground for storytelling. She combines the freedom of the individual to interpret and develop the story with enough structure and guidelines to keep the potential teller in control of the tale. Czarnota also provides pronunciation guides throughout the text as well as a glossary in the back; words included in the glossary are italicized in the text. Her section called "Your Job as a Storyteller" does a good job in breaking down the actual storytelling presentation into simple basic guidelines which should be at the heart of any storytelling performance.

This book is best used by a teacher or group leader with interested and motivated students, since assistance will be needed in developing an interesting and coherent story. Certainly, it is an excellent starting point for what could become a lifelong interest.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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