What Were Castles For? by Phil Roxbee Cox, illustrated by Sue Stitt and Annabel Spenceley, 1994.

This nonfiction picture book for kids is part of the Usborne Starting Point History series, originally published in Britain.

I love books about daily life in the past, and this book explains the lives of people who lived in castles during the Middle Ages by answering questions about what castles were for and what people in castles did. Each page of the book is organized around sections answering specific questions.

First, the book describes the basic purpose of castles and different types of castles that have existed and how they were built. The, it shows different parts of a castle and what people did in different parts. One of my favorite parts is where they show what is in a castle’s keep, which is where the lord of the castle and his family lived. The book uses cutaway pictures to show what is inside buildings, and the detailed pictures show the different activities of the people.

Among the activities of the nobles who lived in castles, the book explains how they would hunt and hold feasts and jousts.

Knights and warfare were central to the purpose of a castle, which was to provide a defensible fortress for the noble families who lived in them and their supporters. The book explains how boys from noble families were raised and educated to be knights. There are also pages showing weapons and the siege of a castle.

One of the things I liked about this book is that, while it is mainly about castles and the people who lived in them, it also shows how people lived outside of castles in small villages, towns, and monasteries. While castles are iconic of the Middle Ages, seeing how people lived in these other places gives a more expanded view of life in Medieval times.

The pictures really make the book! Every picture from the cutaway castle views to the scenes of villages and towns or jousts and hunts, show many people and small details. There are little descriptions labeling the people and details, most giving extra historical information, but some just for fun so readers can notice humorous details, like the monk being chased by bees at the monastery, the chicken escaping along the castle wall, the sister who is happy that her brother is going off to learn to be a knight, and the page who is learning archery but hasn’t made the target yet (his last failed shot falls short of the target, but it’s labeled as the best he’s done so far).

In the back of the book, there is a section with the legend of Richard the Lionheart and his minstrel and a map marked with famous castles around the world.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies, including one in French).

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