Monday, December 8, 2014

Sweaty Suits of Armor & Author Interview

Sweaty Suits of Armor: Could you survive being a knight?
by Chana Stiefel; illus. by Gerald Kelley
48 pages; ages 10-14
Enslow, 2012

When my sons were of a certain age they decided that what they really wanted to be when they grew up was knights in shining armor. They snuck the colanders from the kitchen and used them as helmets. They turned tomato stakes into swords and pot lids into shields. They also watched every version of King Arthur (and any applicable Monty Python movies) that I would allow. 

What they really needed was this book, because Chana Stiefel lays it out like it was back in the day: those heavy metal suits of armor were stinky and hot! Not only that, knights had to eat bad food, wield heavy swords, and were often taken prisoner and - if lucky - ransomed off. The unlucky ones were chained in the dungeon.

Stiefel strips the romance from the Middle Ages with language that is clear, fun to read, and so descriptive you can smell the sweat-sodden padding beneath the armor. She describes life in the Middle Ages war zone (no MREs), how to train for a knight (blood, sweat and tears), and the weapons of war. 

At the back of the book is a handy glossary and list of resources for the would-be warrior. And an index!

I met Chana at the 21st Century Children's Nonfiction conference this summer, and she's a wonderful person - as well as being an awesome writer. She graciously answered Three Questions about her writing. 

Sally: What inspired you to write this book?

Chana: After writing a book about the science of fingerprints for Enslow Publishers (Fingerprints: Dead People Do Tell Tales), my editor contacted me to see if I’d be interested in writing three books for their new series about the “Yucky Middle Ages.” Did I know anything about sieges, swords, sewage, and suits of armor? Nope! Would I love to write this series? Of course I would! Sweaty Suits of Armor came out at the same time as my other two books in the series, Ye Castle Stinketh: Could You Survive Living in a Castle? and There’s a Rat in My Soup: Could You Survive Medieval Food? Writing these books was an incredibly enjoyable (and gross) learning experience. 

Sally: Talk about your process for researching & writing these books. 

Chana: My background is in journalism, so I’m trained to dig up fascinating facts. I read every book I could find about knights, castles, and the food of the Middle Ages. I trolled the Internet, and I visited the magnificent Suits of Armor Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. You can see medieval armor and weapons in books and online, but when you stand next to them, you get a real sense of their heft, their artistry, and the brutality of war. You also come up with interesting questions, like how did knights go to the bathroom with all that armor on? And how hot did a knight feel when he wore a metal suit in August?

My husband and I had also visited medieval castles in France so I had a good frame of reference for murky moats, poop chutes (medieval toilets), and dark dungeons. There is nothing like seeing these incredible structures in person and imagining what it was like to live there 1,000 years ago.

I took note every time I came across something “yucky” and organized my facts into categories (for example, the hardships of training to become a knight, the weight of metal armor, nasty weapons of war, disease, lack of refrigeration, and so on). A professor of medieval history was also a great resource in helping me check my facts and making sure I had the right balance of historical accuracy and yuckiness.

 Sally: What have you got in the works?

Chana: Last year, I signed with an awesome literary agent and sold my first picture book, Daddy Depot, which will be coming out from Feiwel & Friends in 2016. I’m now writing several other picture books, as well as my first Middle Grade novel, which is a mind-bending exercise. I’m also continuing to write non-fiction, including a book about safari animals coming out in May 2015 from Silver Dolphin Press. 
Check out Chana's website at

 Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. We're also hanging out with the bloggers who review mid-grade books at the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday round-up.  Review copy provided by author.


  1. What a great idea for a series. I know quite a few kids who would dive right into this particular one. The interview was quite interesting. It's reassuring with the research she went through to write these books. An important step for all authors.

  2. My son's a bit old for this now, but he would have loved it a few years ago. Thanks for the brief but revealing author interview!

  3. This sounds like fun! I will keep this in mind for my sons, who love the middle ages.

  4. This series sounds wonderful! It was fun to hear about the writing process.