Congratulations to Kathy Dykstra, an “old” friend who is new to my blog, for winning Four Seasons of Fun and to Connie Saunders for winning Lulu & Rocky in Milwaukee.
I was already an Avi fan when I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the South Carolina Reading Association. I’ll never forget his guessing game for his audience. He asked us how many times we thought he revised a novel. I don’t think anyone came close to the answer: 100 times!
His books demonstrate his driving desire to "get it right" results in well-crafted books for children which adults enjoy too.
(For my other reviews of Avi's books see The Book Without Words, and Crispin at the End of the World.)
England, 1486. King Henry VII has recently snatched the English Crown and now sits on the throne, while young Prince Edward, who has a truer claim, has apparently disappeared. Meanwhile, a penniless kitchen boy named Lambert Simnel is slaving away at a tavern in Oxford—until a mysterious friar, Brother Simonds, buys Lambert from the tavern keeper and whisks him away in the dead of night. But this is nothing compared to the secret that the friar reveals: You, Lambert, are actually Prince Edward, the true King of England!
With the aid of the deceitful Earl of Lincoln, Brother Simonds sets out to teach the boy how to become the rightful English king. Lambert has everything to gain and nothing to lose, or so he thinks. Yet in this dangerous battle for the throne, Lambert is not prepared for what’s to come—or for what it really means to play at being a king. (Taken from Avi's synopsis of the book.)
"If you act like a king, you will be king." Brother Simonds drills this advice into Lambert every waking moment. This motto dictates how he must bathe, wear shoes, memorize his royal lineage, and act like nobility during during an audience with the Earl of Lincoln.
Although Lambert's belly is full for the first time in his life, he longs to return to his simple life as an enslaved kitchen boy--to hear once again that he is a "nobody." But when he runs back there, believing that Simonds must be mad to think he is the rightful king, he finds that no one recognizes him with his trimmed hair and elegant clothes.
The second time Lambert escapes the guarded house where he is being trained to assume his role, he sees a "player king," a man who acting the part of a king in a play in the marketplace. Lambert realizes that he has the unique opportunity which every boy in England dreams of--he could actually be the King of England.
Although he recognizes that Brother Simonds and the Earl of Lambert are using him for their own political gains, he begins to believe, "I am Edward. Earl of Warwick. I am the true king." But it is clear to the reader that he is a boy enjoying a grand adventure.
Lambert gets more than he bargains for. He mocks Simonds who leaves him and Lambert belatedly realizes that the priest was his only friend. With allusion to "The Emperor and His New Clothes" and My Fair Lady, Earl of Lincoln and his advisor, Lowell, condescend to calling Lambert their king. But as Lowell pointedly says, "It is always better when the storyteller believes his own tale."
Since Avi writes a lot of historical fiction, I assumed there was some historical foundation to this book. I was unprepared to read this on his website:
Read the histories of the time, and he [Lambert] is barely mentioned. Indeed, just last week I saw a documentary about Henry VII and Lambert was not even cited. But Lambert—a boy—was crowned King of England (in Dublin, Ireland) and led a large invasion army into England, only to be defeated at the Battle Of Trent, the last battle of the War of the Roses. I noticed Lambert in a footnote.
Very little is known about Lambert Simnel. Where did he come from? How did he come to be crowned king? What happened to him after the battle? Certain facts are known—he did exist—but the boy…. Just who was he? What did he think of all that happened to him?
That’s what I have tried to write in The Player King.
Strictly speaking, the title should have been The Player Kings. There is more than one false king in the book.
The challenge was to write about something which is well known—except the central player, the player king—the boy known as Lambert Simnel.
The truth is, foot notes are the foot soldiers of history.
I'm able to give this book away courtesy of Recorded Books. John Keating does an excellent job as narrator. It will make a great middle grade curriculum resource; teachers could discuss English history and political maneuvering throughout the ages.
If you are interested in joining this giveaway, please leave me a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) by December 29th. Share this on social media or start following my blog and I'll enter your name twice.