Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Year in the Life of a Peasant

If you ever think to yourself, "I wonder what life was like for the Medieval peasant?" then I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Till Year's Good End by W. Nikola-Lisa. Each spread is devoted to the work accomplished in a given month, starting with January. I adore this book. The illustrations are wonderful. Obviously their creator, Christopher Manson, was inspired by medieval woodcuts. As you turn the book's pages you realize that he has captured the essence of the changing seasons. The first person verses for each month are pleasing to read...

MARCH: I till the earth first sign of spring. And sow good seed while blackbirds sing.
Just enough additional explanations are included. Your child will gain insight into the tenant farmer arrangement and realize just how long the peasant chore list was: collect firewood, repair bridges, clear roads and ditches, maintain buildings, repair nets, make harnesses, sharpen knives and axes, fit handles on scythes and sickles, make reed mats and baskets, carve wooden spoons, platters and bowls, spin flax and wool into thread, make clothes, make candles, make ropes, mend fences, feed the livestock, plow, plant, prune, build wattle-and-daub buildings with thatched roofs, sheer the sheep, tend the beehives, mow and bundle the hay, weed, harvest the crops, mine the salt, grind the flour, bake the bread, clean the privy, slaughter the livestock, smoke the meat, pick the fruit and make the wine.

Sure makes a "clean your room" request seem easily surmountable.

Ages 6-9

Activity: Use this 15th Century recipe to make some gingerbread.


  1. Interesting stuff. :) I LOVE reading about history. I never paid attention in school and now I'm playing catch up. :)

  2. I'm surprised and delighted to see a review of my book online. I wrote this book in the mid-1990s while I was doing research on another book about the middle ages. That one, titled Magic in the Margins, came out two years ago with Houghton Mifflin. When I stumbled upon an excerpt of a 14th century poem that started, "By this fire I warm my hands...," I instantly imagined a peasant gritting out another winter, another year. Things started to fall into place once I had the first couplet: "By the fire I warm my hands, and gaze upon yon frozen lands." And could see the book as a calendar book with additional information text. I actually wrote the information paragraphs first (because I didn't know what happened month-by-month on an estate in the middle ages). I had imagined the information text at the end of the book. My editor suggested to put them with the couplets. All in all, it is a delightful book. Again, glad to see it with continued life and interest.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your creative process! I'm looking forward to reading Magic in the Margins.