Book Review: How to Be a Warrior Series

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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The folks at National Geographic have created another winning series for young readers. This time out, the topic is How to Be a Warrior. The focus is on times past, mostly ancient or medieval times (although one book is more recent). In each of these five books, the author, Fiona MacDonald (or John Malam), gives the reader instructions on how to aspire to and train for being a warrior in five different cultures: ancient Rome, medieval Europe, medieval Japan, the Aztec Empire, and Caribbean piracy.

The illustrations (which are by a different person in each book) handily illustrate what the author is describing and make it fun to learn more about these ancient or medieval war practices. Weapons, battles, and customs are described, of course. But the books also go into the cultures that surrounded these warriors and how these men (for they were all men) were viewed by the other members of their societies.

Some of the illustrations depict horrible deaths (so younger readers would do well to beware or steer clear). Others cast weapons and battles in a somewhat humorous light. Indeed, some aspects of being a warrior are funny—like having your horse run off just when your battle is about to begin or finding out that you have fought your way all across a battlefield only to discover that you are now in the enemy camp.

Becoming a warrior was easier in some cultures than in others. For example, being good with a sword and having the desire and courage to sail aboard a pirate ship were about all one needed to become a pirate. The life was dangerous and the dangers many, but not special training went into the preparation of young men (for again, they were all men) to become sea pirates. Medieval knights and samurai warriors, on the other hand, endured tremendous stresses in order to become what they aspired to be. It also cost them lots of money, and it became quite clear that social class had everything to do with how easy or difficult it was for the knightdom or samuraidom to be granted. (Roman soldiers had to undergo lots of training, and social class helped determine what rank these soldiers could achieve as well; but having little money didn't preclude young men from joining the Roman Army.)

Nice specific touches are included in each book as well:

  • How to Be a Medieval Knight discusses, among other things, jousts, sieges, castles, and spare-time practices
  • How to Be a Roman Soldier includes several descriptions of how the Roman Army is divided and how its soldiers fight and camp, as well as details of the non-military duties that soldiers were required to perform to keep the army functioning (like building roads, making weapons, cooking food, etc.)
  • How to Be a Samurai Warrior includes excellent historical detail and context on the samurai struggle amid daimyo and shogun wars, as well as the role of women and religion in Japanese society.
  • How to Be an Astec Warrior discusses the religious and social aspects of Aztec society that create military necessities, as well as army rank, medicine, clothing, and weapons
  • How to Be a Pirate brings home the great dangers that pirates faced on a daily basis. Most of the punishments ended in death, of course, and pirates didn't really trust anyone but themselves. Other details not usually seen in discussions of this kind of life include the clothes (and footwear) that the pirates and captain wore, the food and drink they all consumed, and the different kinds of flags that pirate ships flew.

These are excellent books. They are fun to read, and the illustrations are fun to look at. Both are well done. After finishing one of these books, the young reader will definitely have more of an understanding of what it meant to be and what it took to become a warrior in these various times in the past.

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David White