Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: The Usborne Illustrated Robin Hood by Rob Lloyd Jones

The Usborne Illustrated Robin Hood by Rob Lloyd Jones

This version of the Robin Hood story tells two adventurous tales and gives some historical context to the legends and facts surrounding Robin Hood.

The first tale is a pretty standard retelling of the most popular bits people know about Robin Hood. Robin robs from the rich to give to the poor who are being overtaxed by the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Sheriff lays a trap for Robin in the form of a contest. Robin competes in disguise and wins the contest by splitting a bull's eye arrow. The reward for winning the contest is a job--protector of the Sheriff's treasury. After all the greatest warrior in the land should be able to keep Robin's hands off it, right? There are some nice twists and turns at this point that made it more interesting to a veteran of Robin Hood tales like me. J and L loved the story.

The second tale is about Much Middleton, teenage son of the village miller. One day the Sheriff comes to collect taxes and a riot breaks out. Much's dad is captured and sent to the dungeon. Much escapes and finds Robin in Sherwood Forest, sure that he will help. Robin doesn't immediately act, other than bringing Much into his band and training him for the eventual conflict at the end of the tale. This was a new story to me and has that "kid gets to work with his hero" plot that engages readers well.

The final part of the book discusses life in the middle ages and the possible origins of Robin Hood. The original stories about him are from the 1200s and 1300s, with the first written reference in Piers Plowman. The stories spread all over England and many of them have conflicting details, e.g. some say he was once a wealthy lord while others claim he was a poor villager. The lives of the rich, the poor, and the outlaws are all described. The discussion around outlaws caused a tricky conversation with my children--trying to explain that most outlaws were evil men and Robin Hood was a very rare exception proved more difficult than I imagined.

The illustrations by Alan Marks are nice but not great. They suggest swashbuckling and the distant past but don't quite hit the mark. It doesn't detract from the text but doesn't provide a great enhancement either. You can judge for yourself from this sample:

The classic Robin Hood moment

Overall, this is a fine introduction for children to Robin Hood.

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