FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES ONLY. Accused of a crime he did not commit, Crispin has been declared a “”wolf’s head.”” That means he may be killed on sight, by anyone. If he wishes to remain alive, he must flee his tiny village.
Genre-jumping author Avi clocks in here with his 50th book, Crispin: The Cross of Lead, an action-packed historical narrative that follows the frantic flight of a 13-year-old peasant boy across 14th-century England. After being declared a “wolf’s head” by his manor’s corrupt steward for a crime he didn’t commit (meaning that anyone can kill him like a common animal–and collect a reward), this timid boy has to flee a tiny village that’s the only world he’s ever known. But before our protagonist escapes, Avi makes sure that we’re thoroughly briefed on the injustices of feudalism–the countless taxes cottars must pay, the constant violence, the inability of a flawed church to protect its parishioners, etc. Avi then folds in the book’s central mystery just as the boy is leaving: “Asta’s son,” as he’s always been known, learns from the village priest that his Christian name is Crispin, and that his parents’ origins–and fates–might be more perplexing than he ever imagined. Providing plenty of period detail (appropriately gratuitous for the age group) and plenty of chase-scene suspense, Avi tells a good story, develops a couple of fairly compelling characters, and even manages to teach a little history lesson. (Fortunately, kids won’t realize that they’re learning about England’s peasant revolt of 1381 until it’s far too late.) (Ages 10 to 14) –Paul Hughes
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