This is a magnificently written story of two individuals whose lives intersect in medieval England. The first is Crispin, an orphaned peasant boy who is pursued by nobles suddenly seeking to kill him. The second is Bear, an itinerant juggler and a member of an underground movement pursuing freedom from the same nobility who are trying to capture Crispin. Written with authentic language and dialogue, Avi keeps young readers on edge as Crispin faces one conflict after another against the background of peasant life complete with the ever-present hostile soldiers, the slop in the streets and the lice in Crispin's bedding.
History teachers who are teaching medieval history can use this book for supplementary reading, but for those of you who are teaching writing, this mentor text is also a great example of how a main character solves his problems. From climbing walls that separate him and Bear, to outwitting his chief antagonist (the village steward) with clever words and a dagger, Crispin matures. As a result of his difficulties, he is transformed from an ignorant village boy who fears that a 3-story building will fall down, to a young man who rescues his hero and surrogate father, Bear.
Great character lessons also pervade this book. Better than a 21st century psychiatrist, Bear teaches Crispin that he isn't a "nobody without a soul." By listening to instructions to look people in the eye, the young boy hesitatingly moves from a servile position into the freedom of being able to make his own decisions. Bear's words are worth quoting. At one point he remarks, "In a ruthless world I find innocence more a puzzle than evil." Coming from the lips of a fictional character that lived over 600 years ago—it is still applicable today.
Girls and boys from 4-8th grades will enjoy this 2003 Newberry Medal book. It is the precursor to Crispin at the Edge of the World which I also enjoyed.