Most people love to read, or would love to read—if they knew how to choose just the right book. Sometimes we just do not know what sort of book we feel like reading. A reader has many options to systematically go about selecting a book. You can choose a book based on the setting—when and where the book is situated. You can choose by the subject of the book; e.g., a book may be based on art. You can choose based on whether you want to read a book with a boy or a girl as the main character. There are many more methods, as well, and a reader doesn’t even have to use the same method every time.
You can categorize books by setting. Medieval Europe is one such specific setting that many of us book-lovers enjoy reading about. The book Adam of the Road is set in England around 1295. Written by Elizabeth Janet Gray, it is the story of eleven-year-old Adam Quartermayne, son of Roger the minstrel, and his journeys around the south of England. Along with his father, who is a traveling minstrel, Adam experiences first the greatness of London. Later, his story takes an unfortunate turn as, one morning, at a town called Burford Bridge, his precious dog Nick is stolen, and that very evening at Guildford he gets separated from his father. He sets out on a journey, trying to track both his father and his dog, traveling alone all the way south to Winchester, and then north again, up until he reaches Oxford. With the help of kind people he meets and old friends and, most certainly, good luck, Adam manages to get his dog back and find his father again. This book tells us much about Medieval England of the late 13th century, from the view of a traveler, Adam of the road.
The setting of Britain is very popular, indeed. Another book that is set in Britain, but in Roman times, is Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Silver Branch. War itself, is a setting—and that is involved in The Silver Branch, a stimulating story of two young men in Roman Britain. Tiberius Lucius Justinianus, a young cohort surgeon called as Justin, and Marcelus Flavius Aquila, a young Centurion called as Flavius, are cousins in Roman Britain. They serve under the emperor of Britain, Marcus Aurelius Carausius, at Rutupiae, a large Roman city north of present-day Dover, beside the English Channel. They discover that Carausius’s right-hand man, Allectus, may be plotting against the emperor. They try to warn the emperor, but the emperor seemingly does not believe them and instead sends them away to another post. (In fact, Justin and Flavius find out later that Carausius knew about what Allectus would do and sent them away only for their safety.) At the Roman fort Magnis-on-the-Wall (along Hadrian’s wall, on the border of England and Scotland), Justin and Flavius now are Cohort surgeon and Cohort Commander of the Eighth Cohort of the Second Augustan Legion. At Magnis-on-the-Wall, they discover for fact that their suspicions about Allectus were correct. They set off on a race against time, with the help of a native hunter, Evicatos, back to Rutupiae to try to warn Carausius. All at once, they learn they are too late—Allectus has already overthrown and killed Carausius. Disheartened, Justin and Flavius decide to leave Britain for Gaul (France in Roman days). Just as they reach the harbor at Portus Adurni, they decide to stay on instead and join a band of men in resistance against the new emperor Allectus. When the leader dies, they start to lead the band and move the headquarters to Flavius’s family’s farm, located at a perfect position. Finally, Roman armies from the mainland of Europe come from the Portus Magnus under the command of the Legate Asklepiodotus to conquer Britain and wrench it back from the grasp of Allectus. Justin, Flavius, and their men come up to join the Roman armies and help overthrow the tyrant Allectus. This novel gives a reader a good idea of Roman Britain, as the protagonists travel all over the country, and the setting of wartime is one that many people appreciate.
You may also choose a book based on the subject of the book. For example, you may want to read about art. A very interesting art-related story is I, Juan de Pareja. It is set in the early 1600s— a great period of European history, featuring great people—playwrights like Shakespeare, artists like Rembrandt, and scientists like Galileo and Newton. In Spain, there was a talented artist known as Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez. He also had a slave, who later became his assistant. That slave’s story is Elizabeth Borton de Treviño’s novel, I, Juan de Pareja. Juan de Pareja started out as the son of a slave in Seville. When both his master and mistress were taken ill and died, Juan was sent to Madrid to be the slave of the artist, Velázquez, who was his master’s nephew. His new master the artist was very kind to him, and Juan grew to love him very much. He was always fascinated with his master’s art, and over time, he started to paint in secret, learning his master’s techniques. Unfortunately, such art was forbidden to slaves in Spain. Juan finally could keep his secret no longer, and told his master. Juan expected a punishment, but to his utter surprise, his master granted Juan his freedom! This meant that Juan’s painting was illegal no more. The story ends happily with how after Velázquez passed away, Juan settled down in Seville and worked as a painter for many long years.
Another interesting subject is theatre. It interests me particularly because I like to act in plays. Gary Blackwood’s The Shakespeare Stealer takes place in London, at the time of William Shakespeare. Widge is a fourteen-year-old orphan who has a fearsome master in Leicester, England. His master, Simon Bass, has ordered him to copy down Shakespeare’s new play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, in the special shorthand Widge knows which allows him to copy words down as fast as they are spoken. Bass sends Widge to London, along with a man who works for Bass called Falconer. Widge tries to copy the play down twice. The second time, however, he loses his copybook. Trying to get another chance, he works his way into Mr. Shakespeare’s play company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Widge tries to get a chance to copy the play. But as he continues staying with the theater company, his fellow actors start becoming family to him—the first family he has ever known. Soon, Widge must make a choice—betray his new friends or disobey his master. Widge chooses that he shall never betray his friends. Instead, he closes the book by thwarting Bass’s plans of stealing Hamlet. As I actively participate in theater, I could very much relate to The Shakespeare Stealer. This heartwarming story leaves a reader with a good feeling of how a protagonist made the right choice.
Oftentimes, a mystery story thrills us all—especially when it’s a hilarious work like
Henry Winterfield’s sequel to his enchanting story Detectives in Togas, Mystery of the Roman Ransom. Mystery of the Roman Ransom is set in ancient Rome. Seven schoolboys—Mucius, Caius, Publius, Julius, Flavius, Rufus, and Antonius—with the help of their master Xanthos (nicknamed Xantippus by the boys) set off on another adventure when the slave they get their teacher for his fiftieth birthday (which is actually long past!) is actually a secret courier, running for his life. He is carrying a message that calls the assassination of a Roman senator—the father of one of the boys. By decoding the letter that the slave carries, the seven of them must find out who it is, and then warn him before it is too late. Then, Caius is captured, and things get even worse. Finally, however, it seems like the whole problem is solved, as Caius is freed, and the senator has caught those who were plotting against him. However, just when there are only three chapters remaining in the book, things take a distressing turn of events, as an unprecedented problem arises, much to the surprise of the reader. As in most good mysteries, the story is eventually resolved, with a happy ending. Mystery of the Roman Ransom is a hilariously fantastic read.
There may also be a third way you or I might choose a book to read. A boy might want to read a book featuring boys. All the books mentioned above, in fact, do feature boys. This is, no doubt, because I, the reader, am a boy, and books about boys are what are more interesting to me. Linda Sue Park’s Newbery Award Winner A Single Shard is another book with a boy as the protagonist. Set in a small village called Ch’ulp’o on the west coast of ancient Korea, in the mid to late 12th century, A Single Shard is the story of a homeless
orphan boy, Tree-ear, who lives with his friend Crane-Man under a bridge. Tree-ear wants to become the master potter Min’s assistant, and so offers to work for him. Then, an emissary from the capital arrives to appoint a royal commission to one of the potters. Tree-ear wants Min to get the commission, but unfortunately, another potter who had a revolutionary style of work, received the commission: “I would far rather have given you the honor of a royal commission,” the emissary tells Min. Then, he continues on to mention that if Min creates more vases with the new inlay work, and it is brought to the capital at Songdo, the emissary will take pains to carefully consider it. Tree-ear offers to transport the new vases, when they are made, to Songdo. On the way, though, he falls prey to robbers. All he has is taken from him, and, worst of all, the precious vases are broken. Tree-ear is disheartened, disappointed, and discouraged. But then, a surge of hope floods him—and an idea. He makes his way farther on to Songdo, and eventually reaches the emissary’s office—to show him a single shard of his master’s work. The emissary examines the single shard. It is but a fragment; yet, it shows all of the master potter’s skill. Well-pleased, the emissary appoints Min a commission—all thanks to the single shard. Upon reaching home, Tree-ear learns that, while he was gone, his good friend, Crane-Man, had died. He also finds that, from now, he is to live in the house of Min. And, best of all, he finds that his dream is to come true—Tree-ear will throw pots on a wheel sitting beside his master, and craft beautiful vases as he had always yearned to do.
On the other hand, a girl might prefer reading a book with a female as the protagonist. A noteworthy novel falling into that category would be Catherine, Called Birdy, written by Karen Cushman. Catherine, Called Birdy is a diary, the story of fourteen-year-old Catherine, the daughter of the Lord Rollo and Lady Aislinn, of the village of Stonebridge in the shire of Lincoln, in Medieval England, 1290. Her mother wishes to teach her skills of a lady of the manor and to prepare her to be a gentle and patient wife. Her father wants only to see her married off, and profitably. Catherine herself hopes to become a painter, a Crusader, a maker of songs, a peddler, a minstrel, a monk, and a wart charmer… Catherine’s ways of making her loathsome potential suitors leave are hilarious. Eventually, however, she realizes that she cannot be someone else—she must meet with her fate and be herself. This book presents the period of the Middle Ages from a quite different point of view than most of us are used to reading about, because it’s not about knights in shining armor who ride around fighting others. It’s the quieter story of daily life in a Medieval English manor.
As we can see, it is really not that hard after all to choose a good story to read. And, if you might still not be sure what you want to read—why not try one of the six enchanting books talked about above? As Dr. Seuss once said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”