Crispin: The Cross of Lead
|Publisher:||Hyperion Books for Children|
“Asta’s son” is all he’s ever been called. The lack of name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in fourteenth-century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less—no home, family, or possessions. Accused of a crime he did not commit, he has been declared a “wolf’s head.” That means he may be killed on sight, by anyone. If he wishes to remain alive, he must flee his tiny village. All the boy takes with him is a newly revealed name—Crispin—and his mother’s cross of lead. His journey through the English countryside is amazing and terrifying. Especially difficult is his encounter with the juggler named Bear. A huge, and possibly even mad, man, Bear forces the boy to become his servant. Bear, however, is a strange master, for he encourages Crispin to think for himself. Though Bear promises to protect Crispin, the boy is being relentlessly pursued. Why are his enemies so determined to kill him? Crispin is gradually drawn right into his enemies’ fortress where—in a riveting climax—he must become a different person if he is to save Bear’s life and his own. He discovers that by losing everything, he has gained the most precious gift of all: a true sense of self. A master of breathtaking plot twists and vivid characters, Avi brings the full force of his storytelling powers to the world of medieval England.
Genre-jumping author Avi clocks in here with his 50th book, Crispin: The Cross of Lead, an action-packed historical narrative that follows the frantic flight of a 13-year-old peasant boy across 14th-century England.
After being declared a “wolf’s head” by his manor’s corrupt steward for a crime he didn’t commit (meaning that anyone can kill him like a common animal—and collect a reward), this timid boy has to flee a tiny village that’s the only world he’s ever known. But before our protagonist escapes, Avi makes sure that we’re thoroughly briefed on the injustices of feudalism—the countless taxes cottars must pay, the constant violence, the inability of a flawed church to protect its parishioners, etc. Avi then folds in the book’s central mystery just as the boy is leaving: “Asta’s son,” as he’s always been known, learns from the village priest that his Christian name is Crispin, and that his parents’ origins—and fates—might be more perplexing than he ever imagined.
Providing plenty of period detail (appropriately gratuitous for the age group) and plenty of chase-scene suspense, Avi tells a good story, develops a couple of fairly compelling characters, and even manages to teach a little history lesson. (Fortunately, kids won’t realize that they’re learning about England’s peasant revolt of 1381 until it’s far too late.) (Ages 10 to 14) —Paul Hughes
Barnes and Noble
Winner of the 2003 Newbery Medal, Avi’s action-packed adventure, Crispin, transports us back to 14th-century England, where a young serf on the run from his miserable past comes to discover not only his true identity but a sense of self-worth.
Infusing his tale with a deep sense of medieval time and place, Avi recounts the harrowing story of a “nameless boy” known only as “Asta’s son.” When his mother dies and the village steward unjustly accuses him of murder, the boy flees for his life, carrying with him his mother’s lead cross and the newly revealed knowledge of his real name: Crispin. On the run, he becomes the servant and then the friend of a hulking juggler named Bear. En route to a clandestine meeting with social reformer John Ball (a real historical figure in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381), Bear is captured and imprisoned. Crispin sets out to rescue his master and discovers along the way the life-changing secret engraved on his mother’s lead cross.
Crispin is one of Avi’s most engaging characters, and this story one of his most moving adventures. Emerging from intense poverty of life and spirit, this young serf evolves into a complex and brave hero, as he learns that knowledge is the power that leads to true freedom. Readers will be swept away by the rich prose and historical details; Crispin is a life-affirming book that picks you up—and doesn’t let you down. —Matt Warner