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The Barefoot Book of Knights Review by Kevin Dayton

By John Matthews
Barefoot Books
2067 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140

The Barefoot Book of Knights is an 80-page book that tells several tales of adventure in the context of an old, wise armory master teaching a young knight-in-training about the code of chivalry. Five of these medieval romances originate from Europe, while one comes from Persia and one comes from Japan. The first story is based on one of the Arthurian stories of Sir Thomas Mallory. There is an introduction that explains the concepts of knighthood and chivalry.

The stories are narrated in clear, modern language that a young reader will understand and enjoy. Each one has at least one plot twist that makes it memorable. I particularly enjoyed "The Three Journeys of Ilya Murom," a tale from medieval Russia about a knight who takes three roads and defies the road sign indicating the fates of those who take each road.

A slogan of Barefoot Books is "Celebrating Art and Story," and the book does have exceptionally rich and beautiful ink-and-watercolor illustrations on the cover and inside. This is in keeping with the statement on the Barefoot Books web site that "At Barefoot, we are convinced that introducing high-quality images to children at an early age . . . plays a critical part in their emotional and intellectual development." Most of the illustrations are large, and some are even full-page. Inside the cover are illustrations of coats of arms. Throughout the book the juxtaposition of art and text is pleasing to the eye.

Some of the stories contain episodes of magic and sorcery, and the Japanese story refers to shrines and the spirits of bees. Christian parents should also be aware that the moral lessons given in these stories are based on the man-made code of chivalry and not on Christianity. For example, the master introduces one story by declaring that only a knight's honor is more important than his horse.

He introduces another story by talking about the reasons for quests, without ever mentioning the glorification of God. But in an exception to the rule, the last story, "Sir Cliges and the Cherry Tree," depicts a humble and generous knight praying to God and realizing that his extravagant Christmas feasts were motivated by sinful pride.

I picture this book being enjoyed particularly by boys aged 10 to 12. Overall, this book is a useful and pleasant way to introduce young people to the genre of medieval romance.

Product review by: Kevin Dayton, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2008