Friday, January 11, 2013

In 14th century England

Historical novels written for children and young adults are tricky. At times, they feel like history textbooks, wearily feeding their readers with large helpings of historical facts. Sometimes, history is used simply as a vehicle, providing the right time and place for the events to unfold. Thankfully, Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead is the latter. It's a beautiful children's story set in 14th century England.

However, I do feel that I'm just tasting a dish I've been served before, instead of being offered with an exciting novelty that assault my senses. Our main character, Avi, becomes an orphan and is accused of stealing. He is advised by the village priest to run away to England's more prosperous cities. Along the way, he meets Bear, who teaches him the art of performing to a crowd.

It's not Avi who manages to get my empathy in this novel. Rather, it is Bear who becomes the character you root for. Underneath the big frame is a man who believes in an England free from the corrupt feudal systems that plague it. Of course, Avi becomes an unwitting member of this rebellion as well. And it turns out that he's more than just your poor orphan; he has noble blood and an heir.

At its heart, Crispin: The Cross of Lead is an adventure story set in a historical context. But Avi does not people his Newbery-winning work with actual historical figures. In fact, there's just one: John Ball, one of the leaders of the revolt of the peasants, and his role isn't even a major one in the novel. The story is still Crispin's and Bear's.

One of the things that I love about children's books is the straightforward narrative and the crisp writing. While I do appreciate novels that "push the envelope" in terms of literary style, I keep coming back to books for children and young adults because of the elegant stories. Crispin: The Cross of Lead is one such book. From page 1, it's an adventure until you flip the last page.

Read this book if:
  1. You like historical fiction.
  2. You'll read anything that won a Newbery.
  3. You're a sucker for people known by one names only (e.g., Avi).


Raissa Rivera FAlgui said...

Love this series. The second book is good too, though rather sad. I have yet to get the third, which I saw in Fully Booked.

Raissa Rivera FAlgui said...

By the way, aside from the author Avi, there are a lot of characters here known by one name only--Crispin, Bear, etc. I guess last names weren't essential in those days!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Raissa! I'm getting the 2nd book as well!