One of my bucket list goals is to read every Newbery Medal book. So when I find one at 2nd & Charles or a thrift store or a used bookstore (like this gem Charles and I found recently), I snatch it up. (Aside: if you are a book lover and you don’t frequent thrift stores, you are missing out.)
Thus I acquired this little tome. It’s by Avi, one of my favorite children’s book authors. (And according to Wikipedia, it has two sequels! This is why I blog about books: so I can discover new ones!)
Crispin: The Cross of Lead chronicles the adventures of a young boy in medieval England. He has grown up dirt-poor in a tiny village where he and his mother pretty much keep to themselves. Just after his mother’s death, Crispin is inexplicably blamed for the murder of the only other person in his village who has been kind to him, and the village leaders start a manhunt for him.
In escaping from them, he encounters a traveling jester who takes him on as a servant/apprentice, and for the first time travels out of his village and into the wide world beyond. Though ignorant and at times overawed, Crispin learns and adapts quickly as together they travel to colorful, crowded towns, where they sing, dance, and tell stories to make their living.
His master wonders about the cross made of lead that Crispin carries with him ~ the one possession his mother left to him, which is inscribed with writing, unintelligible to Crispin, who can’t read. The cross becomes the center of a swirling mystery about Crispin’s name and origin, which he seeks to solve at the peril of his life.
Crispin is full of historical detail, following the lives of common peasants (unusual in the books I’ve read) and illustrating how very different medieval thought and life were from modern culture. Religion ~ a superstitious but often sincere understanding of Christianity ~ shaped people’s lives. Travel was slow and arduous. Food was usually plain and unvaried, and took hard work to obtain. The authority and proclivities of the feudal powers touched every aspect of life, and sometimes gave rise to the sort of noble deeds and thrilling adventures this story recounts.
This is a stirring tale to share with children, or just enjoy yourself. Keep it in mind for a rainy weekend when hot tea and a coze by the fire are the order of the day!