An Elizabethan Weekend

This weekend past we took ourselves to the Much Ado About Sebastopol Renaissance Faire. It is set up in a small, park full of grass and trees, is quiet, mellow and is a benefit for the Sebastopol school district. My husband and I both worked Faires in our youth, but since the big one near us moved hours away, we were less able to attend them; until now. In its third year this Faire is focused on education; there was a Queens Progress, many craft booths, lectures on daily life of Elizabethans and Morris dancing, which J LOVED. J was dressed in mostly authentic costume, as were his super dorky parents. J, however, added a blue tutu to his ensemble. I was prepared, book-wise, ahead of time and brought home 5 potential books from the library, two were cut for terrible writing (one with poor poetic meter, the other for its bad attitude) leaving us with the following three.

The Bells of London by Ashley Wolff uses a rhyme I learned as a song at 19 while working at an Elizabethan Cottage. The song tells the sounds all the church bells in London say: “Oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s. Pancakes and fritters say the bells of St. Peter’s” The story, illustrated in beautiful linoleum cuts, tells the tale of a young noble boy buying a dove from a young girl, and once it escapes, how the two of them follow it though London trying to catch it, making friends along the way. It is always impressive when a story is told almost entirely through the illustrations. In some ways the words of the song would be unnecessary, except that the woodcuts illustrate the different Churches, as well as making reference to the couplet somehow, even when it is a stretch. Since the book was published in 1985 and interest in traditional tales about London are apparently no longer popular, the book is tragically out of print. I thank my local library for keeping books long after their popularity has clearly waned, even if I will personally be checking this book out again.

The Queen’s Progress by Celeste Davidson Mannis and illustrated in rich gorgeous detail by Bagram Ibatoulline is an Alphabet book about the historical reality of Queen Elizabeth’s summer progress through England. It is one of those books which tells the story in little poems and also includes greater historical detail. I like it when books are arranged this way, allowing me to read it to the average level of my three year old, but also being able to draw it out a bit when his attention span is capable. Part of the story in this book includes a treasonous plot against the Queen, who is saved by the young laundry girl and her copper pan. I love this version of Queen Elizabeth; beautiful, proud, brave and a woman who loved the people over whom she ruled.

Finally, on a sillier and less historically accurate note I bring you The Knight Who Took All Day by James Mayhew. In this hilarious story, when a dragon comes to a kingdom threatening the villagers, the knight takes so long to get perfectly dressed for the occasion, that the princess he is trying to impress tames the dragon before he gets out to the battle field. It is funny to see the pompous knight get slowly ready at the same time the princess is collecting his cast-offs. I am not the greatest fan of the end where the princess marries the squire instead of the knight, it seems an unnecessary stretch. But it is a fun book, full of rhyming, and even though I have a son, I will never be unwilling to read him stories about strong, brave women.

Mannis, C.D. (2003) The Queen’s Progress. New York: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers.

Mayhew, J. (2005) The Knight Who Took All Day. New York: Scholastic Inc.

Wolff, A. (1985) The Bells of London. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company.

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