Horn Book Guide:
Ilene Cooper (Booklist, May 15, 2002 (Vol. 98, No. 18))
In his fiftieth book, (see interview on p.1609) Avi sets his story in fourteenth-century England and introduces some of his most unforgettable characters--a 13-year-old orphan, seemingly without a name, and a huge, odd juggler named Bear. At first, the boy is known as Asta's Son, but when his mother dies, he learns from a priest that his name is really Crispin. He also quickly comes to realize that he is in grave trouble. John Acliffe, the steward of the manor, reveals himself to be Crispin's mortal enemy and declares the boy a "wolf's-head," which means he is anyone's prey. Clutching his only possession, a lead cross, Crispin flees his village into a vast new world of opportunity--and terror. At his lowest ebb, Crispin meets Bear and reluctantly swears an oath to be his servant. Yet Bear becomes much more than a master--he's Crispin's teacher, protector, and liberator. Avi builds an impressive backdrop for his arresting characters: a tense medieval world in which hostility against the landowners and their cruelties is increasing. There's also other nail-biting tension in the story that builds to a gripping, somewhat confusing ending, which finds Crispin, once weak, now strong. Readers may not understand every nuance of the political machinations that propel the story, but they will feel the shifting winds of change beginning to blow through a feudal society. Category: Books for Older Readers--Fiction. 2002, Hyperion, $15.99, $16.49. Gr. 5-9.
Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature)
When his mother dies, the thirteen-year-old boy grieves his loss. He is alone in the world, never having known his father. In fact, he doesn't even know if he has a name. He has always been called Asta's son. Events become puzzling when Asta's son learns he has been declared a "wolf's head," which means anyone could kill him, for he is not considered human. It is said that he stole money from the manor house. Asta's son wonders why the steward would make up such a story. The village priest tells him he was baptized "Crispin," gives him his mother's lead cross and tells him he should leave the village for a big city where he could become a free man within the year. Father Quinel promises to tell him what he knows about his parents, but before he can do so, he is murdered. Fearing for his life, Crispin leaves. After several days he meets a large, red-bearded man called Bear. He makes Crispin swear to become his servant, but through the course of the story their friendship develops to the point where Bear thinks of Crispin as his son. Bear is imprisoned as bait to catch Crispin. The young boy, armed with the knowledge of what is written on his mother's lead cross, attempts a brave rescue of his friend. Crispin's identity will not come as a surprise to the sophisticated reader. Avi creates a strong sense of time and place by using the first person narrative. As Crispin learns about the world of fourteenth century England beyond his village, so too does the reader. The harshness of medieval life is presented, with descriptions such as that of the hanging man, but it is done without sensationalism. Avi has described the smells so well, you would think you were there. While it is Crispin's story, it is the character of Bear that will entrance the reader. 2003, Hyperion, $15.99. Ages 9 to 12.
Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002 (Vol. 70, No. 10))
A tale of one boy's coming into self-knowledge is set against a backdrop of increasing peasant unrest in 14th-century England. Crispin does not even know his own name until his mother dies; he and she have lived at the literal margin of their small town, serfs, and therefore beneath notice. Suddenly, he is framed for murder and has a bounty put on his head. Escaping, he encounters the mercurial itinerant juggler Bear, who takes him on as servant and friend, teaching him both performers' tricks and revolutionary ideology-which puts them both in danger. After a rather slow and overwritten start, Avi (The Good Dog, 2001, etc.) moves the plot along deftly, taking the two from a Black Death-devastated countryside into a city oozing with intrigue, from the aristocracy to the peasants. The setting bristles with 14th-century details: a decomposing body hangs at a roadside gallows and gutters overflow with filth. The characters are somewhat less well-developed; although the revolutionary and frequently profane Bear is a fascinating treasure, Crispin himself lurches along, progressing from milquetoast to restless rebel to boy of courage and conviction in fits and starts, driven by plot needs rather than organic character growth. The story is set in the years just prior to the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and one of the secondary characters, the revolutionary priest John Ball, was a key historical figure. Most children will not know this, however, as there is no historical note to contextualize the story. This is a shame, as despite its flaws, this offering is nevertheless a solid adventure and could serve as the jumping-off point for an exploration into a time of great political upheaval. The title hints at a sequel; let us hope that it includes notes. 2002, Hyperion, $15.99. Category: Fiction. Ages 8 to 12. © 2002 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.
Wendy Kelleher (The ALAN Review, Fall 2003 (Vol. 31, No. 1))
Living in the hopelessness of servitude to a cruel feudal lord in 14th century England seems bleak enough for any teenage boy, but Crispin, the protagonist of this historical novel, has even more to bear. Not only are his parents dead, the cruel steward, John Aycliffe, falsely accuses him of two crimes -- stealing money from the manor and murdering a priest. He's proclaimed a "wolf's head," a person who has committed so heinous a crime, that anyone may kill him for a reward, no trial needed. Escaping, Crispin starts a journey that eventually brings him face to face with the truth of his father's identity, and his own as well. Along the way, he discovers a new "father" in the person of a wandering minstrel named Bear. He also discovers a world he never knew existed and develops a strong sense of self and an emotional independence he could never have developed had he simply accepted the fate life seemed to have dealt him. Historically accurate in its references to the Peasant Revolt of 1381, Crispin provides an insightful look at life in medieval England for a teenage boy caught in the hopelessness of the feudal system. Students will identify with his sense of loss as he buries his mother and takes on the responsibilities of feeding and caring for himself. They'll learn to love and appreciate Crispin's surrogate father Bear's rough mannerisms as they get to know him. Category: Historical Fiction/Adventure. YA--Young Adult. 2002, Hyperion, 262 pp., $15.99. Ages young adult.Tempe, AZ
Janice M. Del Negro (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2002 (Vol. 56, No. 2))
In the midst of his grief over his mother’s death, the thirteen-year-old boy known only as “Asta’s son” finds himself caught up in circumstances he cannot understand. John Aycliffe, steward of the boy’s poor fourteenth-century village in the long absence of the crusading Lord Furnival, has declared the boy a “wolf’s head” (less than human) for a crime he did not commit, thereby sentencing him to certain death. The boy finds an ally in the village priest, who informs him that his real name is Crispin and who promises to tell him of his origin. When the priest is murdered, Crispin flees for his life, on the road meeting up with Bear, a traveling performer, to whom Crispin becomes an apprentice. Bit by bit Crispin discovers the truth of his origins: he is the bastard son of Lord Furnival, and Aycliffe wishes him dead to keep him from making a claim on the lord’s estate. The book’s conclusion is abrupt and the resolution insufficiently grounded, but the rest of the book is a hearty ramble. Avi conjures the atmosphere of the medieval English landscape by concentrating on that world’s physical details (especially the smells), yet it’s also clear from Crispin’s narration, wherein he constantly defers to the will of God, the overwhelming role that religion played in the life of the medieval peasant. The pace is quick, and the boy’s change from cowed serf to courageous hero is logical and believable. This picaresque adventure will appeal to young medievalists as well as serving as an entry point to discussions of life in the Middle Ages. (Reviewed from galleys) Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2002, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2002, Hyperion, 262p, $16.49 and $15.99. Grades 6-9.
Marge Wood (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 15, No. 4))
Avi loves to tell stories. His wide range of books demonstrates that. In CRISPIN, he teaches history--the history of fourteenth-century medieval England--and the importance of paying attention. Crispin, the son of Asta, grows from being a fearful, uninformed youth to a young man who knows how to protect not only himself but also his protectors. He learns to make decisions and take the consequences. Although predictable in some ways, this book is not only a story about a boy who is running from his enemies, it is also about how he gains his own personal freedom. Avi has done a great job of setting the stage by describing the scenes of that time period. The story begins in a tiny village where Asta and her son live. They are taunted by all and are in fear of John Aycliffe, the steward of the town. The boy has always thought there was something wrong with him that made people laugh and deride him. When his mother dies, the priest helps the boy bury his mother. Immediately, the boy is on the run. Aycliffe and his men are trying to find him. The "savior" in this book is a huge, red-bearded man called Bear. Bear immediately adopts Crispin as his servant. The man is a juggler and dancer and teaches Crispin to play a recorder and sing. Strangely though, Bear insists that the boy think for himself. The one thing Crispin has of his own, in addition to a good mind and body, is a lead cross informing readers that he is Crispin, son of Furnival. Since he can't read, he does not realize the true value of the cross. Bear risks his own life shielding Crispin. Readers will find out how Crispin grows through the story. This would be a great addition to any library. Fiction, Highly Recommended. Grades 4-8. 2002, Hyperion Books, 262p, $15.99. Ages 9 to 14.
Rebecca Barnhouse (VOYA, June 2002 (Vol. 25, No. 2))
In 1377 England, mysteries surround thirteen-year-old Crispin, a serf from a rural village who never knows his own name until his mother dies. Nor does he know just who his mother really was--why she was an outcast or how she learned to read and write. Shortly after her burial, Crispin finds himself pursued by men who mean to kill him for reasons he does not understand. He escapes, only to be captured by a huge juggler named Bear. Bear teaches Crispin to sing and play the recorder, and slowly they begin to get to know one another. When they perform in villages and towns, however, they discover that the hunt for Crispin is still in full swing. For Crispin, this situation makes the question of Bear's trustworthiness vital, for Bear has secrets of his own. The suspense stays taut until the very end of the book, when Crispin uncovers his identity and then must decide how to act on that information. His journey to selfhood recalls Alice's in Karen Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice (Clarion, 1995/VOYA August 1995). Like Alice, Crispin casts off his timidity to make a place for himself within a society that would discard him. As does Cushman, Avi renders the sights, sounds, and smells of medieval England accurately and compellingly. He shows the pervasiveness of the church in medieval society and, in a subplot, weaves in details about John Ball and the Peasant's Rebellion. Exciting and true to the past, this novel is historical fiction at its finest. PLB $16.49. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, Hyperion/Disney, 261p, $15.99. Ages 11 to 15.
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