Friday, August 22, 2008

Crispin, The Cross of Lead: Book Review

Author: Avi
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 261 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH (May 3, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0786816589
ISBN-13: 978-0786816583

Newbery Medal winner of 2003, Crispin The Cross of Lead is an action packed historical novel set in the 1380’s of England’s peasant revolt. The protagonist is a thirteen year old peasant boy known only as “Asta’s Son” (Asta being the boys mother) because he has never been called by his own name. In fact he doesn’t know he has a name until his mother dies. The village priest discloses he baptized him and gave him the Christian name of Crispin.

Also, after Crispin’s mother dies the only home he has ever known is burned to the ground. Crispin is forced to begin his life as a fugitive for thievery and murder. He is declared a “wolf’s head” by the corrupt steward John Aycliffe, for crimes he didn’t commit. This means that anyone can kill him like a common animal and collect a sizable reward.

Feudalism is the way of life for many in 14th century England. There are countless taxes that lowly peasants must pay and constant violence. People were either very poor or very rich. Common people had no say over their destiny. The church is unable to protect parishioners and subject to many cruelties.

"Time was the great millstone, which ground us to dust like kernelled wheat. The Holy Church told us where we were in the alterations of the day, the year, and in our daily toil. Birth and death alone gave distinction to our lives, as we made the journey between the darkness from whence we had come to the darkness where we were fated to await Judgment Day."

There are plenty of chase scenes as well as undisclosed plans shrouded in mystery. Avi develops a couple of compelling characters but Bear, a traveling juggler, will become Crispin’s deliverance from the bounty hunters that follow them everywhere. The relationship between the juggler and the peasant become the heart of the story. Avi weaves an expert tale of trickery and betrayal and brings history to life.

About the Author: Teachers told young Avi that his writing didn't make any sense. Little did they know he had dysgraphia, a learning disability that makes writing difficult. Yet, with boundless talent and the encouragement of an understanding tutor, Avi kept writing. Today, he is the prize-winning author of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing But the Truth, and dozens of other popular books for young readers.

Write it down,