One-Minute Book Reviews

November 29, 2007

Raise the Drawbridge and Lower the Portcullis! It’s David Macaulay’s Captivating ‘Castle’

A Caldecott Honor Book about the making of a medieval castle in Wales still appeals to children three decades after its publication

By Janice Harayda

This afternoon I found myself in the children’s section of our library with an 8-year-old friend whose mother had agreed to let me to pick out a book for him while she visited the adult stacks. The book I thought Cory might like wasn’t on the shelves. But David Macaulay’s wonderful picture books about the making of large structures – Cathedral, Pyramid, Castle and the new Mosque – stood near its spot.

Cory loves to read – especially The Invention of Hugo Cabret – but hadn’t seen these treasures, which helped to win a MacArthur grant for their creator. So I pulled a few of Macaulay’s books off the shelves and handed them to him. Cory gravitated right away to a picture of how a drawbridge works in Castle (Houghton Mifflin, 74 pages, $9.95 paperback, ages 7 and up), a Caldecott Honor Book about the construction of a medieval castle in Wales.

So I returned him to his mother with three of Macaulay’s books and checked back later. Cory was still poring over Castle – specifically, a picture of soldiers who seemed to be underground. I wondered if they were digging a moat. But Cory pointed to a witty drawing of several of their comrades, who were to trying to reach the ramparts. He explained that if “the enemy” couldn’t scale the castle walls, they tried to tunnel their way in. This he had just learned from the book.

I don’t know if every child reacts this way to Macaulay, a superstar in the field. But by now millions must have been captivated by his intelligent texts and intricate and amusing black-and-white cross-hatched drawings. And Castle, first published in 1977, makes an especially good introduction to his work, because it feeds interests kindled in children by fairy and folk tapes. Houghton Mifflin recommends it for 10-to-14-year-olds, but I’d give it to 7-to-9-year-olds and let them grow into it if they’re not quite ready. The pictures will draw in the younger children even if some words are unfamiliar. Just ask Cory.

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© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I would also recommend Macaulay’s The New Way Things Work, which is a 1998 update of 1988’s The Way Things Work. I bought the latter for my son when he was quite young, and he just loved it. It’s another good book to grow into.

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — December 4, 2007 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

  2. You are psychic. The three books I pulled off the shelves for my young friend were 1) “Castle,” 2) “City,” and 3) “The New Way Things Work.”

    I focused in my post on Macaulay’s “buildings” books because “The New Ways Things Work” raises a couple of issues that those books don’t. One is that it doesn’t have the technological wonders that have come out since 1998, such as the iPod. So I thought I might do a separate post later on what’s in the book and what’s not.

    But in the meantime, I agree completely that “The New Way Things Work” is a great gift for ages 7 and up (and maybe for some younger ages). Thanks so much for mentioning this one.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — December 4, 2007 @ 6:41 pm | Reply

  3. I have a feeling that Macauley may do another revision of The New Way Things Work in 2008 – the first book was published in 1988, a revision in 1998, so it’s about time.

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — December 4, 2007 @ 11:03 pm | Reply

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