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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Come to the Castle, written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Roaring Brook, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"The Cook

I have no fresh capon. No porpoise or eel.
No sumptuous roast for a memorable meal.
Still I must follow the Lady's command,
A feast in two days? I'll use what's on hand:

Gizzards and livers and kidneys and feet—
Grind it up well into mystery meat.

Bind it with egg, mix it with spice,
Throw in some currants and mustard and rice.
Drop it in stews, bake it in pies,
Roll it in balls (or some other disguise).
Toss on some flowers, gild it with gold.
Present it with antlers or feathers. Be bold!

A fine work of art to fill them with awe—
So what if it's cold, or the meat is still raw?"

The irreverent voice of the cook is clear and cantankerous concerning the tasks set for her because the Earl of Daftwood is bored and must find something to fill his time. When he announces his plans for a tournament, it is left to his staff to deal with the fallout that such an event precipitates. Each has an opinion and few are flattering.

Linda Ashman obviously did her homework when creating this collection of poems that voice the concerns of those living and working in a thirteenth century English castle. While their humorous takes on the ado has the reader laughing out loud, we also catch accurate glimpses of their life and times. Their monologues dance with rhythm and rhyme and entertain readers page after page. Their tone leaves a clear message that while a party and jousting may be fun for the Earl and his family, it wreaks havoc with those who must make all the preparations at a time when nothing was simple. The differences between classes and the living conditions of each are evident and deplorable. But, the stories are told with great wit and humor and provide a most entertaining tale.

Steve Schindler uses the text to inform his illustrations which show the same irreverence and humor. The style chosen and the decorations added to each page's opening letter will have readers poring over the details and finding further fun. The revelry costs both servants and guests and in the end, most are dead tired and glad the tournament is finally over. The Earl, however, feels the only thing to assuage his somber mood and bleak outlook might be found in hosting another tournament.

The author adds a closing note to the text, further explaining the duties and positions she has chosen to portray.

Use this entertaining and informative book with Good Masters, Sweet Ladies (Candlewick, 2008)in an introduction to a medieval studies unit. They are both unbelievably good, while calling up totally different takes on similar characters. What a grand performance they would provide following your class study! What joy to read aloud with a middle years class!

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