David Macaulay's
Castle -and- Cathedral

reviews, reading levels,
a peek inside, and more

If you are teaching about the Middle Ages or have a student/child who is interested in castles or illustrations, these two books are just what you're looking for. Both include Macaulay's trademark

highly details illustrations---the type of illustrations that beg to be poured over and pondered.

Macaulay's illustrations bring the era to life and communicate the immensity and majesty of medieval castles and well as what a tremendous undertaking it was to construct them.

Using this book in a whole class activity could be a little tricky unless you have an Elmo or some other way to project the illustrations on the screen. If you can overcome this obstacle, however, these books will be tremendous resources.

Castle by David Macaulay

CastleCastle tells the fictional story of the construction of a magnificent castle in England, strategically built on a bluff overlooking the sea to assure continued domination over the Welsh. Readers witness the castle's methodical construction in intricate pen-and-ink pictures. Moats, dungeons, weaponry, and more are explained in detail. In the end, the citizens and leaders of this fictional castle community find weaponry and defenses unnecessary, favoring cooperation instead.

Reading Statistics
Interest Level:   Grade 5+         DRA Level: na   
Reading Level:  young adult      Lexile Measure: 1180L

Awards & Rating:

Caldecott Honor 1978
Avg Amazon Rating:5 stars (26 reviews)

Cathedral: The Story of Its ConstructionCathedral

In 1252, the people of a fictional French town plan and build a cathedral after their church is destroyed by lightning. The reader witnesses the construction of the beautiful edifice from viewing the plans through the final addition of the towers. Accessible text is paired with Macaulay's trademark highly detailed illustrations.

Reading Statistics
Interest Level:    Grade 4+         DRA Level: n/a         
Reading Level:   young adult     Lexile Measure: 1120L

Awards & Rating
Caldecott Honor 1974
Avg Amazon Rating:
4.5 stars (24 reviews)

Peek Inside
Below are sample pages from inside both books. The first two illustrations are from Castle and both demonstrate how the highly detailed illustrations are contain numerous educational components. For example, in this first picture of the castle's cathedral under construction, Macaulay has cut away part of the roof to illustrate how it is made, plus included men at work with ladders and pullies and scaffolding to show different construction methods and materials.

Castle by David Macaulay

The spread below shows and describes the gatehouse sections of the castle walls. This was the most important part of the castle's defenses due to their vulnerability, so great care was taken in the construction of these structures. Macaulay includes a cut-away view and describes the various defensive features such as the heavy wooden door, the arrow loops, and the 'murder holes.'

Castle by David Macaulay

Cathedral by David Macaulay
The illustrations at right and below are from Cathedral, and while these small versions should give you an idea of what the illustrations look like, you really do have to see it in full book- size to appreciate the intricate detailing involved.  

The illustration at right depicts the unfinished cathedral during the winter months. In the book, the page opposite this one describes the work that was carried out in small workshops during the winter months as well as which activities had to be put on hold until spring. Integrating the impact of weather on the cathedral's construction helps to further reinforce the fact that constructing a cathedral in the Middle Ages was not an undertaking of months or years but decades and sometimes even centuries.

The spread below occurs early in the book and shows the floorplan (left) and wall elevation (right) of the planned cathedral. Macaulay's integrates many diagrams, unique angles, and dissected views of the cathedral's various components (aka cut-aways). This allows the reader to understand at a glance how buttresses worked, how the floorplan was made to resemble a cross, how the foundation played a crucial role in the integrity of the overall structure, etc...  

Cathedral by David Macaulay

The suggested reading level for these books is grades 4/5 and up. While that range may seem too wide, Macaulay's books have a unique ability to meet the level of the reader.  These two books are full of illustrations that communicate to various levels of reading ability. Older readers will be able to take in more details and perhaps read more of the accompanying text, but younger readers will glean a great deal just from simply pouring over all the many detailed illustrations. Exquisitely done!

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Castle & Cathedral
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