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Teaching Your Child

Knighthood is alive and well in kids' books

Knighthood is alive and well in kids' books

May 24, 2002|BY LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"I want to have a sword fight for my birthday, boys against the girls."

When my son announced this two months before his birthday, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Swords? Kids? Doesn't sound like a party to me.

Why couldn't he just ask for pizza like a normal first-grader?

Guess we've read too many books about knighthood and chivalry. (Although the chivalry part apparently didn't stick since he wanted to fight girls rather than uphold their honor.)

My husband and I put our heads together and decided to make shields out of cardboard. We were going to make swords, too, until we found some plastic bubble-holding ones at a local dollar store.

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So the kids had their "sword fight" - the ones who got hit by a bubble had to leave the game. I don't even know who was the last man (or woman) standing. The bubbles, and the kids, just faded into each other after a while.

The important thing was that they had fun pretending to be knights.

Then we recently had the opportunity to attend a Knights' Day put on by Contenders for Christ, which is part of the local SonLIGHT home school group.

The program was great. The boys learned about calligraphy, archery, jousting, table manners, and sword and shield making.

Stations were set up where the boys could "experience" what knighthood required. They hit a target with suction-cup arrows, jousted aboard a stick horse, drew with calligraphy pens and learned how to conduct themselves during dinner.

The round-robin approach - where each child or group spends a given amount of time at each station - seems to work well with children, says Kimberly Mills, who helped to organize the program.

The variety of activities keeps them interested, and it helped to alternate physical activities with non-physical ones, Mills says.

At the end of the day each boy was "dubbed" a knight.

My son came away from the program wanting to know more about medieval life.

So I was excited to learn that Barefoot Books had just published, "The Barefoot Book of Knights," a collection of stories from around the world. The stories tell how knights were taught to have courage, honor, strength, wisdom, patience and humility.

The book is targeted to boys ages 8 to 12, and to parents and teachers who are trying to encourage boys of this age to read, according to Tessa Strickland, co-founder and publisher of Barefoot Books.

Strickland commissioned author John Matthews, an authority on Celtic history and literature and a scholar of Arthurian legends, to write a book that would bring together stories of chivalry and present them within a linking narrative about the experiences of a young page training for knighthood in an English castle.

Strickland feels this time period - from about the 10th to the 15th century A.D. - still holds appeal for several reasons.

"I think that the principle of fair play in situations of conflict is in our bloodstream as human beings. Even youngsters in a playground know instinctively what is and is not fair," Strickland e-mailed. "What fascinates me about the age of chivalry is that combat was an art form and that fighting was about honor, wit and courage, not just about 'the biggest is the best.' "

I asked Strickland if she thought chivalry has a place in modern society:

"There is an old Japanese saying from the Samurai tradition, 'The skillful sword never leaves its sheath.' In an age when so many countries in the world possess weapons of mass destruction, we need more urgently than in any other era in history to learn how to resolve conflict in a way that avoids unnecessary violence.

"The gravity of the situation in the Middle East is a daily reminder to us (that) violence and military aggression cannot solve deep-rooted differences; we need the subtler skills of international diplomacy, recognition of the values of others and a shared understanding that we live in a fragile world and need to work together for a peaceful future."

When teaching children about knighthood, Strickland feels adults should note that at the heart of chivalry is a mutual respect between both parties - each had his own way of seeing the world and the right to defend it in accordance with agreed rules of combat.

"I think the best message parents can stress when talking to their kids about chivalry is the importance of recognizing that when you are in conflict with another person, or when your society is in conflict with another, it is vital to try to understand as much as possible about the other side's point of view and the cause of their grievances."

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For information on "The Barefoot Book of Knights," go to www.barefootbooks.com on the Web.

You also may want to check out "Knights in Shining Armor" by Gail Gibbons and "The Armor Book" by Michael Berenstain. Both are available at Washington County Free Library.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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