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Castle: How It Works

Castle: How It Works

by David Macaulay, Sheila Keenan

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Take a tour of a medieval castle.

Every part of the castle has a function. Walls keep the enemy out. Towers protect the lord and the soldiers. From the moat and portcullis to the great hall and dungeon, see how a castle works as an enemy army tries to storm the walls.

Castle: How It Works is a Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Book of 2012


Take a tour of a medieval castle.

Every part of the castle has a function. Walls keep the enemy out. Towers protect the lord and the soldiers. From the moat and portcullis to the great hall and dungeon, see how a castle works as an enemy army tries to storm the walls.

Castle: How It Works is a Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Book of 2012

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“…great fuel for the imagination.” —Kirkus, starred

“Engrossing...scoop this one up.” —BCCB, starred

“Both books revisit subjects covered in earlier books (Castle, rev. 10/77; and The New Way Things Work, rev. 3/89, 3/99), but these topics are here presented with the needs of developing readers in mind.” —The Horn Book

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Macaulay focuses his detailed visual and terse verbal efforts on examining the structure of a medieval castle in Wales, telling us about the functioning of its many parts. The fundamental purpose of the castle is "to keep the people inside safe," and "other people safely outside." The book begins with a distant view of the building "high on a rocky hill," with a few people spying on it from close by. Gradually we see, often from a birds eye perspective, the paths into the living spaces through massive gateways, past inner walls, and into the spaces where the inhabitants go about minding animals, preparing foods, building necessary equipment, and ever watchfully standing guard. Since the castle is meant to protect, Macaulay describes some of the tools of war, like battering rams, catapults, and vats of boiling liquid to por down on invaders. Scenes include details of architecture, like the Great Hall with its busy servants, fireplaces, and beamed ceiling. The text is direct and conversational. An additional list of "words to know" supplies useful explanations of more technical terms, along with further sources of information and an index. The illustrations are equally clear as they reinforce the textual information, while adding emotional content in their use of color and dramatic depictions. This is part of the "My Readers" series. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—This early reader provides an intimate tour of a complex structure that budding engineers and/or young history buffs will love. The structure is first described from afar with "tall towers…and a wide moat," then in greater detail once "you get past the guards." A variety of castle dwellers are briefly introduced, from the blacksmith to the lord and lady, as are the configurations of the rooms and fortifications. Young readers will giggle at the depiction of a guard visiting the toilet while gaining an understanding of how that facility would work. Outside the castle, an attack unfolds as battering rams are used against the walls and pigs are catapulted over the fortifications. Guards successfully repel invaders with boiling water and flaming arrows, and the book ends on a happy note with a celebratory feast. This engaging introduction to castles gives just enough information to explain each inhabitant's occupation or a room's purpose while keeping the text friendly to new readers. The abundance of new words is balanced by a comprehensive glossary and accompanying castle map, and the second-person voice gives an immediate "You are there" feeling that kids will appreciate. The pen-and-ink drawings, enhanced with color, helpfully illuminate the text by illustrating unfamiliar concepts, like "a siege" while giving life to the people and places described. Macaulay's original Castle (Houghton Mifflin, 1977) is a great follow-up for readers who are looking for detailed information.—Marian McLeod, Darien Library, CT
Publishers Weekly
Launching the David Macaulay Studio imprint (along with Jet Plane: How It Works, simultaneously available), this handsome leveled reader aims "to stimulate both verbal and visual literacy," Macaulay writes in an introduction. Well-targeted to independent readers not yet ready to tackle Macaulay's more comprehensive 1977 classic, Castle, the engaging narrative addresses readers directly, first inviting them inside a castle as a "friend," and then imagining how they'd attempt to gain access to the structure as "foe." In the first guise, they're introduced to snippets of quotidian castle life: the blacksmith forges a horseshoe while his children chase chickens in the courtyard, servants prepare the great hall for a meal, and a guard uses a rudimentary toilet. Things get more exciting in the second half, as readers receive a crash course in storming the castle as an enemy—battering rams and "germy dead animals" are involved, which should easily pique interest. Macaulay's illustrations are rich in architectural and period detail (and who would expect otherwise?), skillfully partnering with the text to create quality nonfiction. Ages 7–8. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Hooray for the launch of a new nonfiction series for newly fledged readers! Macaulay's compact, clear and engagingly illustrated explanation of how a castle is built to thwart potential intruders (you, the reader, in this case) is the right length and depth for readers who have progressed beyond beginner books. His trademark pen-and-ink lines reveal the structural purpose of each part of the medieval stone fortress, while color wash adds appeal. Clearly among the first of a series, this title is labeled "Level 4," and the sentences are just complex enough: "Beneath the ground floor is the dark, damp dungeon." The narrative is well supported by the illustration--and vice versa: An intriguing drawing has the essential details mentioned in the accompanying passage. Readers will encounter new challenges with text set against dark backgrounds on a few pages, but the font size and line spacing are just right. The length of the book--32 pages, including glossary--seems thoughtfully calculated to bestow a sense of accomplishment. The basics get covered here in fascinating detail: the guard who stops to use the toilet; a cross section of a battering ram. Added riches: a glossary, an index and a list of resources for further study, in small type but nicely focused. And will a young scholar read it again and look for more? You bet--it's great fuel for the imagination. (Nonfiction early reader. 4-8)

Product Details

Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
My Readers: Level 4 Series
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.10(d)
500L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

David Macaulay is the author and illustrator of more than twenty-five books including Cathedral, Pyramid, and Castle. His ground-breaking The Way Things Work has become a modern classic. He won the Caldecott Medal for Black and White. He lives in Vermont.

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