Introducing primary aged children to history is essential. A well-designed picture book is one method worth pursuing. Anyone seeking information about medieval life should read The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century (Douglas & McIntyre Publishing Group, 2005). This book is written by award-winning author and illustrator, Uri Shulevitz. It is a fictionalized first-person account of Tudela’s 14-year journey. Twenty-first century children are accustomed to a wide array of modern conveniences. Being able to imagine the primitive lifestyle of the Middle Ages is enhanced by the reading of first-hand accounts. Unfortunately, few pertinent documents have survived. Benjamin’s Hebrew account is among the most famous. Benjamin introduced his contemporaries to some places that were previously unknown while maintaining a nonchalant voice. These original writings are usually reserved for historians and adult history buffs. Using extensive research funded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Uri combined many of the factual elements of Benjamin’s Hebrew writings with a fictionalized voice. Benjamin’s words and thoughts allow modern readers to visualize the perils of traveling during this turbulent time while learning about many historical events. Modern day adventurers have the luxury of traveling by plane, modern railroad systems, and via luxury cruise ships. Benjamin’s bare bones land treks were accomplished by traveling by foot and in wagons. Sea travel was faster, but limited to rudimentary barges and small boats. Pirates, diseases, and inclement weather were major concerns.
In the beginning of the book, Uri provides a map of Benjamin’s travels. This illustration reveals Benjamin’s amazing accomplishments. He left his home in Spain and bravely explored Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Persia, China, and Egypt before he made his way back to Tudela, Spain. Uri skillfully added many facts that provided a colorful and thought provoking overview of medieval life. He simultaneously put different events and places into historical perspective. Readers young and old will be inspired to want to learn more about the interactions between Christian Crusaders and Muslims. The role of the Assassins or Hashishin is likewise a noteworthy aspect of medieval history. Benjamin’s journey is seen through the eyes of a European Jew. Thus, his perceptions are based on a Jewish mindset that ties each place to Jewish history and survival. Uri’s illustrations add to the understanding of Benjamin’s journey. The vibrant colors help to engage the reader. The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century would be the perfect book to share with anyone who is interested in the Middle Ages, notable European sites, and Jewish history.
Background Information- Uri Shulevitz (Born in Warsaw, Poland 1935)
In 1939, Uri’s family fled from Poland. Thereafter, they lived in exile throughout Europe for 8 years. They eventually settled in Israel. While living in Israel, Uri attended the Teacher’s College and the Art Institute in Tel Aviv. After moving to the US, he continued his education at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. He initialing illustrated Hebrew books for children. In the 1960s, he wrote and illustrated his own children’s book. Since that time, Uri Shulevitz has illustrated and authored dozens of award-winning books. He has also contributed to the success of illustrators by writing Writing with Pictures : How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books and teaching drawing and design to college students.
Award Winning Books
- 1969: Caldecott Medal, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship
- 1979: Caldecott Honor, The Treasure
- 1998: Charlotte Zolotow Award, Snow
- 1998: Golden Kite Award, Picture Book Illustration, Snow
- 1999: Caldecott Honor, Snow
- 2009: Caldecott Honor, How I Learned Geography