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How It Works

Castle: How It Works

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Take a tour of a medieval castle.

Every part of the castle has a function. Walls keep the enemy out. Towers protect the lord and the soldiers. From the moat and portcullis to the great hall and dungeon, see how a castle works as an enemy army tries to storm the walls.

How It Works is a Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Book of 2012

32 pages, Hardcover

First published September 18, 2012

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About the author

David Macaulay

86 books320 followers
David Macaulay, born in 1946, was eleven when his parents moved from England to Bloomfield, New Jersey. He found himself having to adjust from an idyllic English childhood to life in a fast paced American city. During this time he began to draw seriously, and after graduating from high school he enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). After spending his fifth year at RISD in Rome on the European Honors Program, he received a bachelor’s degree in architecture and vowed never to practice. After working as an interior designer, a junior high school teacher, and a teacher at RISD, Macaulay began to experiment with creating books. He published his first book, Cathedral, in 1973. Following in this tradition, Macaulay created other books—including City, Castle, Pyramid, Mill, Underground, Unbuilding, and Mosque—that have provided the explanations of the how and the why in a way that is both accessible and entertaining. From the pyramids of Egypt to the skyscrapers of New York City, the human race’s great architectural and engineering accomplishments have been demystified through Macaulay's elaborate show-and-tells. Five of these titles have been made into popular PBS television programs.

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5 stars
67 (31%)
4 stars
97 (45%)
3 stars
42 (19%)
2 stars
6 (2%)
1 star
2 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 53 reviews
Profile Image for Cynthia Egbert.
2,148 reviews26 followers
December 31, 2017
If you have a child who has any interest in castles, knights, kings and queens, or history, this one is a terrific read. The illustrations really make things clear and the author outlines all of the most important parts of the castle, even the "bathrooms".
Profile Image for Sheila .
1,921 reviews
December 30, 2016
Very educational, and I would imagine it would be well received by its young intended audience. All aspects of life in the castle are covered, including the things that would interest kids, such as invaders and how they might attack the castle using a catapult to throw a dead flaming pig over the wall (with lovely illustration to boot) as well as details of life in the castle including where you went to the bathroom, where your poop went (with illustrations of the chute built into the wall,with the guys standing several floors below with their pitchforks to shovel it all out), and even what you would use for toilet paper (straw). Such was life in the castle!
Profile Image for Christabelle.
354 reviews9 followers
March 9, 2023
This one gave us a good picture of what the inside of a castle looked like. It helped us envision daily life a little better. It was my kids favorite because they included a toilet. 😆
690 reviews3 followers
December 2, 2016
Bravo to an author who manages to make medieval history and engineering both engaging and fun to learn about. My favorite fact: "The priest is one of the few people in the castle who can read." I was also intrigued by the way rainwater was collected on the chapel roof. And at last, I have a clear understanding of a portcullis. I hope National Braille Press, the organization that produced the print/Braille version of this book, produces the author's volume on the cathedral.
50 reviews1 follower
November 8, 2018
This book is constructed to educate children as to the importance of castles and what they are used for. It explains that castles were served primarily as military purpose that held lords and kings. Interesting book that will keep children engaged and eager to learn about this specific time in history.
Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,276 reviews399 followers
April 20, 2022
Impulse loan from my new library. Just can't judge, as it's not my schtick. Not universally appealing, that's for sure. Also, seems a bit too simplistic. As a leveled reader, it's for probably children age 5-6? I think they would have a lot more questions after reading this than before. (Maybe that's a good thing? Inspires further research & reading?)
Profile Image for Melanie.
101 reviews4 followers
December 8, 2022
This is a great beginners book to learn about the layout of castles! I wish it has shown a little more mapping of where the places could be typically located within the castle. Otherwise this book was great to learn about the outer and inner walls (curtains) and parts of the castle.
Profile Image for John.
750 reviews
November 26, 2018
I like this book because castles are my favorite thing in the whole-wide history and I like them because murder holes, but I don't know what murder holes and I would give murder holes four stars.
Profile Image for Chinook.
2,258 reviews19 followers
December 6, 2020
As an intro to a specific time in history, I thought this was excellent. Clearly the highlight was the page with the castle toilet.
Profile Image for Desi A.
556 reviews4 followers
Shelved as 'read-to-jp'
March 12, 2021
Single evening independent read.
34 reviews4 followers
July 25, 2017
Categories/Genres for this class fulfilled by this book: Non-fiction, easy-reader

Copyright date: 2012

Estimate of age level of interest: K-3

Estimate of reading level: Dewey: 728.8; Int Lvl: K-3; Rd Lvl: 3.1

Brief description:

Identify at least 2 characteristics of this genre and subgenre and discuss how they appear in your book.
One characteristic of this genre is reduced vocabulary. The sentences are short and the vocabulary is simple. The illustrations clearly support the text with great detail.

In what ways and how well does the book as a whole serve its intended audience?
This book is about castles which is a favorite topic for young children, especially boys. The author uses humor and detail to make the story enjoyable - as simple as explaining about the bathroom and using hay as toilet paper! Using thick slices of stale bread for plates! He writes the story from the viewpoint of a friend or a foe and how the castle is meant for both. There is a wonderful glossary in the back of the words to know, and a reference and index typical for non-fiction.

None for this book but the author has won several, including having many of his books made into PBS specials.

Horn Book Guide, 10/01/15
50 reviews1 follower
March 24, 2014
Castle: How It Works
Author: David Macaulay
Reading Level: ages 6-10

Macaulay, David (2012) Castle: How It Works London: Macmillan

This book is a non-fiction look at how life was like inside a medieval castle. Also, the book focuses on the exterior and interior of the castle, and it's many defensive components. I have a particular taste for all things medieval, so this book really catches my interest.

First off, it's very informative and breaks down the infrastructure of a castle down brilliantly. The companion illustrations help bring the detail to life. The illustrations are colorful and distinct; however, they are fuzzy and unfocused. It would be interesting to have young children compare how they live their lives today in contrast to people in the middle ages.

There is a bit of violence depicted, but it's nothing graphic. The point of that section of the book is to showcase the many defensive marvels that are built into medieval castles.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
Profile Image for Janessa.
210 reviews13 followers
December 11, 2013
Yay! A book my science-minded 8-year-old wants to read! It is hard to find a book that will keep him in his seat. But when our daily reading time was over today, he stayed put and kept turning pages. I love that this book has a higher reading level, without an overwhelming amount of text. Maccauley does an excellent job of assembling intriguing facts and infusing them with the perfect amount of story-telling. For example, he begins the book with the idea that a castle is meant to keep people out, which completely ingrigued my young reader. He also uses second-person point-of-view to pull the reader in. It is perfect for our bright, but active, little guy. I can't wait for Maccaulay's "Eye" and "Toilet" readers to come out next month!
666 reviews112 followers
October 4, 2015
An absolutely wonderful book to read to or with children that are interested in the past and castles. David Macaulay has a phenomenal way of explaining without talking down to a child. The illustrations are fantastic, very scrupulous done so that the child can follow with the pictures as well as with the words.

For me, it was the pleasure I got while looking in the bright eyes of my eight year old grandson as we were reading this together.

This book was recommended by my Goodreads friend Lorraine, who actually sent me a copy. Thanks, Lorri--just remembering his eyes as we were reading makes life a bit brighter.

Profile Image for Christina Fisher.
34 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2014
Castles, because they are rarely lived in anymore and provide such grandeur to behold when inside, provide a very captivating book for kids of all ages. The author, David Macaulay, gives great insight using cutaways of castles (the inside and outside of them) so that kids can see what they are truly like and what the purposes were of their different features. The illustrations are realistic and show the castle being used, so that readers will know what life was like inside a castle. The drawbridge picture really stands out!
577 reviews5 followers
September 1, 2014
very informative in the David Macauley style; plenty of information to keep the young reader interested, and the illustrations add tremendously.

also, no glossing in this non fiction book, e.g. infected pig is ready to be catapulted into the castle.

book will challenge the adult reader b/c there will be plenty of questions.

although focused on the early/beginner reader, the text may be too difficult, and the print is too small.

but, enjoy, high quality work, by an excellent writer.
15 reviews
February 26, 2015
Twin Text: The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

I chose these texts to go together because of the obvious castle tie in that is in both of the books. I like the fact that the non-fiction book gives you a somewhat tour of a castle during their prime time of existing, while the fiction book talks about forging a castle back up to try and escape it. I feel as if David Macaulay's book would give an insight about castles that the reader probably didn't know before picking up their fiction book that just so happens to involve escaping from a castle.
Profile Image for Cara.
1,683 reviews
June 29, 2016
A book about castles and how they work geared toward children. My son greatly enjoyed the pictures as it isn't quite reading yet.
The sentences were so short, they were almost choppy sometimes. Though I know it's for child readers with a little experience under their belts.
It was cool to learn about the outside of the castle and its fortifications and it's inner workings. I don't think it necessary to include information about a guy crapping, picture included, as well as 'murder holes', IMO. This is for younger readers after all.
Profile Image for Ingrid.
130 reviews3 followers
December 24, 2012
I'm not sure how successful this will be as an easy reader, but I love it as a non-fiction title. The added color may make it more accessible to contemporary readers, but it retains all the great elements of the original. There is still the picture of the man on the toilet which was my kids favorite part, but now you can see that he pile at the bottom of he chute is brown--gross! Can't wait tot try this out with my kids.
Profile Image for Lu Benke.
175 reviews1 follower
February 10, 2013
As easy readers go, this isn't bad. It's just sad that the fun and detail of Macaulay's illustrations get chopped down to the size of easy reader format. The font, too, seems to be the wrong size (too small), and the lack of white space seems to make the pages look crowded and unclear. Still, the text is fun and fascinating and informative. Seems like it would have been better to keep everything in the original format. But then there wouldn't have been a whole new series to market...
Profile Image for Julie.
60 reviews13 followers
September 5, 2013
Like some reviewers here, I also missed the richness and depth of Macaulay's illustrations, but there was still enough to intrigue. Also, it was refreshing in these days of political correctness to see a catapult hurling a dead, infected pig and and explanation of "murder holes." I very much like the concept of a nonfiction easy reader--the subject matter might inspire a reluctant reader to try a more challenging book about the same subject.
Profile Image for Laurie.
51 reviews5 followers
August 31, 2014
This book fascinated our preschool and kindergarten set. Diagrams outline every aspect of a medieval castle in well drawn detail. Be prepared to answer the many questions that arise as children compare modern life and amenities to castle life. Reading and studying the book numerous times resulted in translating the drawings into amazingly well constructed sand structures! A strong contender for one of the best summer books brought home from Grandma's Library Run.
Profile Image for Librariansteph.
289 reviews6 followers
February 6, 2013
The only thing standing between this book and a five star rating is my feeling that this is not really a book for a beginning reader. Easily a third grade reading level. That said, it is the best nonfiction castle book for early elementary I have ever read. And it will be appealing and informative even for those kids who are challenged by the syntax and vocabulary.
Profile Image for Pamela.
16 reviews1 follower
February 27, 2013
Yea!! A Castle book just right for beginning readers. With a Lexile level of 500 this is a great read for the youngest grades.

Boys will especially like the description and drawings of the castle toilet. And the instructions on how to lay siege to the castle and breach the walls will most certainly be acted out many times, complete with catapult contents I’m sure!
Profile Image for Shelli.
5,001 reviews41 followers
August 9, 2016
This is a fantastic book for independent young readers, filled with fun and informative facts about castle defense. Students will learn so much about what obstacles an invading army would have to overcome if they wished to lay siege on a fortress. Castle, How it Works is perfect for additional elementary history curriculum, or for a nightly reading assignment.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 53 reviews

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