Of course I was drawn to this book because of Chris Riddell's excellent illustrations, as well as the fact that my favorite kid's book publisher, Candlewick Press, released it. But, I discovered that, aside from being a really interesting read, it is unique among kid's chapter books. There are a handful of great books set during the medieval time period, Crispin by Avi, Matilda Bone, The Midwife's Apprentice and Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, Elske, Jackaroo and On Fortune's Wheel by Cynthia Voigt, and the superb Quest for a Maid by Francis Hendry, which could almost be a companion to Castle Diary, to name a few, but none that detail so intimately the daily life of a medieval child.
Tobias Burgess is eleven when, after two years of waiting, his mother finally agrees that he can spend the next twelvemonth as a page at the castle of his father's elder brother. The writing style is faux-medieval and there will be some names and words specific to the period that readers may have difficulty with, however, the abundance of pictures and diagrams make it appealing, and the book also includes notes for the reader and a glossary and index. In a privileged position because of his birth, Tobias does not participate in menial or hard labor, however he is expected to serve his aunt and is schooled along with the other pages and his young cousins. Over the course of a year he writes of his lessons, his punishments, including the finger pillory, riding on the hunt and learning longshanks (stilts.) He details a joust as well as the knighting of his cousin. He also writes of domestic issues, such as the baking of bread and the effect of a dry, hot summer on the garderobes (latrines) and the plight of a man caught poaching from his uncle's river. In August, Tobias falls ill and a physician is called in to bleed him. The book ends with a Christmas celebration and the arrival of Tobias' father to take him home.
This book will definitely appeal to fiction and non-fiction loving readers alike. There is enough of a story to keep the reader interested, but really the book is all about the depiction of life in medieval times. This book was originally published in a large, color, picture book format (see first illustration above) that suits Chris Riddell's illustrations perfectly. The smaller format is great because it now looks like a chapter book and will have greater appeal to kid's reading at this level. Also, this format knocks about $15 off the price. The downside to this is that the other book by Platt and Riddell, Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter is not available in this format. However, Pirate Diary is available in a picture book paperback size for $7.99. And, there is also Egyptian Diary: The Journal of Nahkt and Roman Diary, which are illustrated in a style very similar to Riddell's, by David Parkins, available only in the hardback, picture book format.