A little while back, we read Rosemary Sutcliff's "The Eagle of the Ninth" (1954, repr 2004 OUP, ~300 pp.); it's a terrific story of Marcus, a young Roman soldier who puts himself at grave risk to save his men during an attack on the fort which is his first command posting. He is discharged from the Roman army afterward with a career-ending injury, but finds new purpose in life when he decides to try to retrieve the missing eagle that had been lost when his dead father's legion disappeared in the north of Britain. He travels north of Roman territory on a dangerous quest in search of the eagle, with his friend (and manumitted slave), Esca. Marcus grows in maturity over the course of the story; his friendship with Esca, his relationship with his uncle Aquila, and his courtship of a British girl, Cottia, are very tenderly handled. It's very well-written and enjoyable--all of my kids liked it a lot.

Hopping ahead a few hundred years, another good one (for 8 or 9 and up, I'd say) is Eloise McGraw's "The Striped Ships," the story of a Saxon girl, Juliana, immediately before and during the year following the Norman Conquest of 1066 (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1991, ~225 pp). As it is essentially a book about war and its effect on children, this one is rather darker than our norm around here (Juliana's family loses everything, her father dies, she sees one of her friends killed, and there is an implied attempted [but thwarted] r@pe). It sounds in summary darker than it really is, though, because the dark bits are very carefully written, and because Juliana is consistently brave and resourceful throughout, as well as very adaptable; she gets her young brother to the monastery in Canterbury which he longs to join, and she finds her own way to a new and independent life, as she is taken on at the workroom where a team is embroidering the Bayeux Tapestry.

We're rereading an old favourite right now: Farley Mowat's "Owls in the Family" (1961, repr. McClelland & Stewart, ~100 pp). This one's a Canadian classic--everyone here of a certain age whom I know has read this at some point or another. It's the true story of a small-town Saskatchewan boy who rescues two orphaned baby great horned owls, and the adventures he has with them. Lots of funny incidents, a snapshot of a way of life that has disappeared (the story takes place in the early 1930s), and engagingly written, like all of Mowat's many books, for both children and adults. Lovely for any age.