Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Review: Crispin: the cross of lead
Crispin: the cross of lead by Avi
Summary: Set in 14th-century England, this is the story of a 13 year-old peasant boy. After his mother dies, the boy known only as "Asta's son" is declared a "wolf's head" by his manor's evil steward (which means that anyone who sees him can kill him and collect a reward) for a crime he didn't commit. The village priest is prepared to help him escape, and lets him know that his name is actually Crispin and that there are things he needs to know about his mother and unknown father. But before Crispin can visit the priest again, he's killed and Crispin must flee for his life. He meets a huge juggler/mummer named Bear on the road and starts to learn that there's more to life than being a serf. Bear and Crispin's adventure continues as they enter the town of Great Wexly, where trouble for both of them ensues and the truth about Crispin's parentage comes to light.
Why'd I pick it up? For the Newbery Challenge. Although I also felt I should read some of the prolific and well-respected Avi (can't recall if I've read any of his others). This is his 50th book!
Overall: I think this would be a great book for teaching kids about the feudalism during the Middle Ages. It's good to have a perspective beyond the usual knights and castles stories for this age group. Avi really sets the scene well - he paints a clear picture of the tiny villages and also of the large market town. I was impressed with the way he really describes what life was like for peasants at the time. Crispin calls it a "living death" - nothing but work, poverty, misery, and the church telling them that if they follow the rules they'll get their reward in Heaven.
It was actually quite jarring to read so much about the Church in a kids' book, actually. My first thoughts were that I really couldn't see myself recommending it to many kids in our very multicultural city, but I think there's enough adventure, suspense, and violence in it that I can pull it off. :) And kids often need period-specific fiction for school, so now I have one for boys.
Crispin's Middle Ages-speak also put me off at first and I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy the book, but once I got into it, I discovered not only an adventure tale but a great story of a boy discovering that he can take charge of his own life.