Book Review: Marcia Williams’s retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

More than six hundred years ago, Geoffrey Chaucer commenced the writing of his Canterbury Tales.  The work was never finished: of the 30 pilgrims, each was to tell two tales, to help pass the time on the journey to Canterbury and back, but today we have only the unfinished fragments in countless interpretations and translations.

Marcia Williams took on the awesome challenge of retelling Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales for a new generation of younger readers.  Referring (with credit given on the copyright page) to Dr. Lesley A. Coote’s student-friendly edition as the basis for Williams’ own text, the stories are told in modern English with snippets of the original text provided in the illustrations, in word bubbles from the characters, where their context makes them less alien and more charming.

A particularly endearing feature of Williams’ book is the running commentary of characters in the margin illustrations.  Little birds discuss the actions of characters in the Knight’s tale, while squirrels and owls listen in on the Miller’s tale, and goofy fairies flit alongside the Wife of Bath’s story.  These margin dialogues provide a modern day connection and discussion points for adults who share this book with children, or for older children to discuss the stories together.

The medieval font chosen for the copyright page information particularly charmed me.  It’s always a delight when publishers remember that a few of us have to read that page, too.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
retold by Marcia Williams.
Cambridge, Mass. : Candlewick Press, c2007.
ISBN 9780763631970.

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