Books by Fiona Macdonald

Released: July 1, 2000

Children know the medieval period best for its knights in shining armor. With an eye to redressing the omission of women from many historical accounts, MacDonald highlights some of the better-known women of the time, as well as the lives of everyday women, in this overview. While the other books in this series explore specific countries (Women in Ancient Greece, 1999, etc.), this history covers a broad spectrum of Christian women in many European nations. Contents include the role of women in medieval society, marriage, motherhood, health, dress, work, and religion, as well as short biographical information on notable women. Each subject is divided into paragraphs under bold headings in the style of an encyclopedia article. In a paragraph entitled "Multicultural," MacDonald acknowledges that medieval Muslim, Jewish, and pagan women did exist; however, scanty information about them is given. Numerous reproductions of illustrations taken from books and paintings of the time break up the text, as do boxed quotations and anecdotes taken from original sources. The illustrations are accompanied by excellent explanatory captions; in fact, quotations and the captioned illustrations are often more interesting and specific than the text, which is quite general. A survey of five hundred years of history cannot cover so large a subject in depth, and this one omits many historical events that affected women's lives, but students looking for another source for information on women will find this helpful. (Nonfiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 30, 1999

In this latest entry in the Other Half of History series, Macdonald (Women in 19th-Century America, p. 967, etc.) addresses both the myths and realities of life for women in ancient Greece. Every aspect of those lives is examined forthrightly; women were kept indoors to master housekeeping skills, not allowed to speak in public or to hold property, subject to arranged marriages at the age of 14 to men twice their age, and only too aware that female infanticide was a husband's prerogative. Macdonald makes clear that Greece was a society that exalted womanhood, but seemed to deplore real women. Divided into easy-to-read sections, the main text is broken up by informative sidebars, photographs, and quotations from contemporary poets, authors, playwrights, and philosophers, e.g., Aristotle stated, "A woman is an imperfect male. She is female because her body is not properly made." Macdonald is balanced in her presentation and wary of modern pronouncements about this distant culture; she tempers her research with phrasing that helps readers understand what is fact and what is speculation, and may inspire them to further study on their own. Eye-opening and useful. (glossary, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 7-14) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 30, 1999

In glossy textbook style, this latest entry in The Other Half of History series (Women of Ancient Greece, p. 1746, etc.) illuminates the days and lives of wealthy, middle-class, and poor women who lived thousands of years ago in Egypt. The large-scale format of the book allows elaborate full-color photographs to appear on every page, often accompanied by sidebars with brief quotations from ancient Egyptian writers. These provide the book's main source of interest; Macdonald resorts to a textbook writing style, with deliberately short, declarative sentences that make the material sound more somber than it is. Nevertheless, this book provides a useful tracing of the role of women in history, and would be a good companion reference to Eloise Jarvis McGraw's classic Mara, Daughter of the Nile (1953) or Sonia Levitin's Escape from Egypt (1994). (maps, glossary, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1998

Macdonald (First Facts About the Ancient Romans, 1997, etc.) attempts to explain past history through the experiences of children from various cultures and time periods, noting that the details of their lives did not always merit recording or preserving: "They had little money and hardly any power, so few writers or artists thought it worthwhile to record their lives." Every spread, arranged roughly chronologically, describes a different topic or culture, e.g., "Ancient Egypt," "Toys and Games," "The Children's Crusade," "Benin," "The French Revolution," etc. A sidebar covers a particular child from that place and time, among them, Princess Amat al-Aziz of Baghdad, a.d. 758, who "had the deepest desire to do good"; Egil Skallagrimsson, a young Icelander who killed his playmate at age six; Nathan Field, an actor with Shakespeare's troupe; and Anne Frank, who may be the most famous child of WWII, an era otherwise given sparse treatment. Full-color drawings by five artists, historical photographs, and thumb-sized world maps accompany a text that runs between understatement and exaggeration; Macdonald's idea is certainly a good one, but it may be that the coverage, attempting uniformity where none exists, is simply too uneven. (chronology, glossary, index) (Nonfiction. 10-12) Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 15, 1997

In the First Facts series, a look at life in ancient Rome, presented in double-page spreads, each of which is centered on one fact, such as ``Rich Romans Ate Flamingos and Peacocks'' and ``Many Roman Soldiers Couldn't Speak Latin.'' Each spread contains a few paragraphs of information, numerous small captioned pictures, and a box of additional facts. The approach is somewhat scattershot: While each page is loaded with interesting details, they are only loosely related. Further, the pictures are often small for the amount of information they are intended to convey; perhaps because the spreads are crowded, it is sometimes hard to locate the appropriate caption for the picture (and at least in one case, two captions are switched). Finally, it's something of a misrepresentation to state baldly that ``conquered peoples resented Roman rule.'' Macdonald (A Samurai Castle, 1995, etc.) offers much to intrigue readers, but they will have to work harder to extract the facts than they would in other, better designed books on the subject. (glossary, index) (Nonfiction. 7-10) Read full book review >
A SAMURAI CASTLE by Fiona Macdonald
Released: Dec. 15, 1995

In the Inside Story series, a sedate view of traditional samurai culture, with slight emphasis on the great castles built in Japan during the 16th and 17th centuries. Younger fans of military architecture will be intrigued by the differences between European castles and Japanese ones, with their painted exteriors, wooden upper stories, upswept roofs, moveable interior walls, etc. Unfortunately, that interest won't be served by the book; despite the title, castles (not all of them real) are depicted on only eight pages, often shown from picturesque rather than revealing angles. Browsers, too, may be disappointed, if not by the tame seige scene and the fairly sterile violence (a horseman bears very clean severed heads; a scene of combat ends in a barely discernible disembowelment), then by the absence of ninja, bright colors, or fine details. The information is reliable, if vague (is a ``koku'' a measure of rice, of land that provides that measure of rice, or both?) and only rarely sparked by a colorful incident or detail. Overall, this is too bland and general to have more than passing appeal. (appendix, glossary, index) (Nonfiction. 10-12) Read full book review >
A GREEK TEMPLE by Fiona Macdonald
Released: Nov. 16, 1992

In the ``Inside Story'' series, a detailed look at the Parthenon—its historical setting (built not only to honor Athena but to provide work for former soldiers after the Persian Wars); its design, construction, and architectural details; its uses and subsequent history. Combining a generally explanatory text with detailed illustrations of different sizes, each with a caption clarifying and extending the text, the book conveys an admirable amount of in-depth information about this vast, wonderfully complex structure. The author's organization is more topical than sequential, with the result that it's often necessary for the reader to piece facts together—e.g., by searching captions for a definition of a word in the text. The realistic, finely detailed illustrations do an excellent job of showing how the different elements were made and assembled; but the noble effect of the whole, and especially of the heroic statuary, is less effectively conveyed—in part because of the delicacy of Bergin's style. Still, all in all, unusually thorough and authoritative. Glossary; index. (Nonfiction. 9-13) Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 1991

The author of A Medieval Castle, also in the ``Inside Story'' series, presents the ingenious, devoted, and indefatigable builders who perfected the medieval cathedral as a stone prayer to God and a place of community pride. Though again treading on the heels of David Macaulay, Macdonald and James hold their own, pointing out the religious significance of a bishop's seat, describing pilgrims' routes to other cathedrals, depicting the daily life of both workers and the religious community, and showing the variety of arts and crafts necessary to construction. In James's precisely detailed color illustrations, tiny figures climb dizzying heights of scaffolding to perform their tasks; the lofty elevation and difficulties of working with massive stone blocks on flimsy scaffolds should ignite interest in young folks. A few annoying picture captions don't parallel the text (e.g., ``St. James'' becomes ``Santiago''); still, a wealth of information is provided here in attractive style. ``Cathedral Facts and Building Styles'' are appended; glossary; index. (Nonfiction. 10+) Read full book review >