Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cathedral and Castle (Houghton Mifflin)

David Macaulay is a masterful author, illustrator, and more importantly teacher. Using his background of architecture, which he received from Rhode Island School of Design, he created pen-and-ink drawn books, such as Cathedral, City, Pyramid, Underground, and Castle and inspired many of today's architects and engineers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has revised and released two of these books, Cathedral and Castle, in full color format. I was fortunate enough to be granted some review copies and would like to share my thoughts with you today.

Cathedral is an 80 page hardcover, dust-jacketed, full-color reprint of the 1973 classic with the same name that is designed for kids ages 10 to 14. It takes place in France circa 13th through Century and involves the building of a Gothic cathedral in the fictitious city of Chutreaux. William of Planz is a fictitious architect tasked with the building of this monumental structure.The first architectural drawings we see are the floor plan, in traditional cruciform shape and a cross-section of the building. Each of these drawings is labeled to help teach your children both parts of a church (like nave and apse) and architectural techniques (like vaulting and flying buttresses).

We then learn about how things were built in the 13th Century. In a word, it was slow! It took many men, including masters, apprentices, and general laborers. It also took simpler tools, which your children get a glimpse of, such as levers, mallets, chisels, augers, etc. Despite the slow-going of work, buildings built then are, in my opinion, better constructed and more beautiful than today's buildings. Throughout the rest of the pages, your children will gradually see the building begin to take shape and life! Mr. Macaulay not only shows and tells you how parts of the cathedral go up, but he explains the reasoning behind it. He even goes so far as to show you stained glass being made and the cathedral bells. He also does a nice job of showing the realistic side of this kind of construction. He doesn't pretend it all happens overnight, but shows that apprentices are poor and during winter months have to take jobs "beneath them" like general laborers, or worse the bishop dies. Death was commonplace with projects of this scale, but Mr. Macaulay adds a nice touch by having the bishop being buried in the cathedral instead of the crypt. At the very end is a helpful glossary of terms, which can be good for a quiz or just learning for the sake of learning.

As Catholics, my whole family enjoyed reading this work and seeing all the effort that went into creating beautiful churches like the ones that still exist in Europe. As an architect, my wife particularly loved this book for all the details. It definitely puts a bit of images and words to, "What kind of work does Mommy do?" If you are looking for a book that is as beautiful as it is brilliant, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Not only will your kids love it, but you will too. And who knows, it might inspire the next generation of architects, and engineers.

Castle is an 80 page hardcover, dust-jacketed, full-color reprint of the 1977 classic with the same name that is designed for kids ages 10 to 14. Like Cathedral, this book takes place in the 13th Century, only in England instead of France. The fictitious castle being built is located in Aberwyvern and is "based on several castles built to aid in the conquest of Wales between 1277 and 1305. The first thing we learn in this book is location. Location is THE rule in modern-day real estate, and it held true for Castles back then. That is why the fictitious engineer "chose a high rocky outcrop that extended into the water." This provided a natural defensive advantage. We then see a floor plan for the castle and the town that was located near the castle.

Unlike Cathedral, this book shows a more detailed illustrations of the laborers, both skilled and unskilled, that went into architectural feats of this magnitude. We see diggers, carpenters, quarrymen, masons, etc. and the tools they used for each of their crafts. You will see some repeat information in this book, like the section that mentions how to protect the walls and stone from cracking in the winter. Thankfully, this repeat information is minimal, and you see fascinating original material, like the fact that walls to the castle and the town were constructed at the same time or the different defense mechanisms built into the structures of the castle. You'll read about drawbridges, learn what arrow slits and murder holes are, and even learn some of the day-to-details after the castles was built, i.e., water cisterns and cesspits (place human waste goes). He even talks about a battle that put the castle construction to the test.

I thoroughly enjoyed Castle, and highly recommend it. One could argue it could be more geared towards boys than girls, because when one thinks of castles and knights, you think boys, not girls, but I implore you to encourage all your children to read this book. It is not only educational, but fun as well! Here's hoping Houghton Mifflin Harcourt continues to re-print these great works in color.

These books were provided to me for free in exchange for an honest review. If you found them helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!