Sunday, December 18, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Did Castles Have Bathrooms?

Did Castles Have Bathrooms?
written by Ann Kerns
2011 (Lerner Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Practically Paradise

To answer the title question, castles did have bathrooms but not the kind we have today. A small room called a garderobe served as the place where you went to the bathroom. It was built against an outside wall and the "plumbing" was inside the wall and led to a pit or the moat. Fragrant herbs like lavender were placed in the garderobe to keep down the odor. Did Castles Have Bathrooms? thinks of just about every question a young reader would have about the Middle Ages and answers it directly with just enough content as to not drown you in facts. Each question is answered with a two page spread. A large illustration with a question is on the left with two columns of information on the right. Other subjects addressed include whether or not Robin Hood and King Arthur truly existed (They did not.). Another topic that will be of interest is jousting. I always assumed jousting tournaments were held strictly for  entertainment. It seems tournaments were a source of income for knights who had to pay for armor, weapons, horses, and a support crew. I didn't realize being a knight was such an expensive proposition. Speaking of armor, there is a section on how knights were able to go into battle and still wear that heavy suit. Perhaps the most interesting and terrifying part of this book is the feature on the Black Death. From 1348 to 1352, the bubonic plague killed twenty-five million people which was one-third of Europe's population. That's unbelievable! Contrary to previously held beliefs, it wasn't the rats of Europe that were to blame necessarily, but the fleas that lived on the rats. In the midst of all this history, you get a little science to help you understand how flea bites were so deadly. Did Castles Have Bathrooms? is a fascinating study of a  time period that may be overlooked by today's students.

Books like this are a valuable resource since you can use it to bolster dry accounts contained in textbooks. One activity would be to have a student reading this book create a poster divided into sections that contained different pieces of information about the Middle Ages. Did Castles Have Bathrooms? would be an excellent accompaniment to Newbery winner Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village.


  1. Hi Jeff, what a thorough review you have here. I would be sure to look out for this book along with the Newbery winner Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! - they all seem like fascinating reads. My 9 year old daughter's into this phase now, I'm sure she'd love going over this. :)

  2. Thank you, Myra! I have several good titles this year about medieval life.