Avi, Children's/Coming-of-Age, Historical Fiction

Review of Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

What was it about?

At the start of the novel, Crispin, referred to as Asta’s Son, is attending his mother’s funeral. Crispin’s life has hit rock bottom. Although his family had always been burdened by heavy taxation and starvation, Crispin leaves the funeral with the comforting knowledge that John Aycliffe, Lord Furnival’s steward, wants to kill him. Crispin’s mother had always been treated as an outcast on Furnival’s land, but her son had taken this for granted. They were peasants after all. But shortly after the funeral, Crispin overhears a conversation between Aycliffe and one of his servants. Upon seeing the boy, the two men chase the boy with the intention of killing him. Crispin doesn’t know why he is labeled a Wolf’s Head, but now anyone can kill him without risking any retribution. But why would anyone want him dead? He is only a peasant boy. Crispin runs to the local church and asks Father Quinel why he is being pursued. Quinel admits that there is a mystery surrounding his father’s life, and promises to reveal it to Crispin the next day.  All he tells the boy is that his real name is Crispin and that his mother knew how to read. But the next day, Father Quinel is nowhere to be found. Instead, Crispin finds himself running away once again from Aycliffe and his men with only his mother’s lead cross for protection. At a dilapidated cathedral, he becomes the servant to a jester named Bear. Unlike the servitude Crispin is used to, his new master treats the boy more like an assistant than a servant. Bear and Crispin together take the road to the village of Great Wexly, John Aycliffe close at their heels. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi is the story of a 14th century peasant who suddenly and mysteriously becomes the most threatening person in all of England.

What did I think of it?

Crispin: The Cross of Lead is the first book of the Crispin Trilogy, and it was a phenomenal read. Although I knew the mystery all along, the book is intended for middle-grade children. Children at that age are still learning to identify tropes and imagery. For them, the ending of Crispin most likely comes as a surprise. Still, I enjoyed the novel. There have been countless novels set in the Middle Ages. However, so many portray Medieval Europe inaccurately or stereotypically. Crispin: The Cross of Lead does neither. Finally, I have come across a character who finds strength in his faith. Avi doesn’t bore the reader by including pages of facts about the 14th century. Rather, the descriptions of the time period are elegantly weaved into the action of the story. Crispin is one of those works that should be taught in schools. Not only is it fast-paced and action packed with very likeable characters, it has great educational value. The book raises some important questions about power, wealth, and poverty that can serve as talking points for some great class discussions. Crispin: The Cross of Lead definitely deserved the 2002 Newbery Award  for being both enjoyable and educational. I look forward to reading the second and third books in the trilogy, Crispin: At the Edge of the Wood and Crispin: The End of Time.

 This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge

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