Avi. 2002.CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD. New York: Hyperion Books For Children. ISBN: 078680828-4
Crispin: The Cross of Lead, winner of the 2003 Newbery Award, engages the reader from the get-go. It tells the adventurous tale of a young peasant boy and how he comes to understand who he truly is. Known simply as Ashta's Son the reader sympathizes for the young protagonist on the opening page when they read of his mother's funeral. The pitiable peasant boy is left to his own devices in a medieval England setting. He never knew his father, who was supposedly killed by a plague. He is falsely accused of stealing and his only friend, the priest, is murdered. The reader is intrigued at this point and their toes may curl at the injustice of all that is happening to the boy. He flees for his life after being proclaimed a wolf's head meaning that anyone can kill him and claim a reward.
The story pays just enough attention to detail to impart a general feeling for the nature of the time period without overloading the text with laborious aspects of the medieval time period. The realities of how people lived their lives during this time period is clearly presented in the setting of this book, unexpectedly educating even the most leery reader. Avi is a well-respected author and historian, earning him the trust of the reader. Because of his reputation, the reader trusts that his work accurately imparts historical facts correctly.
Ashta's son wanders around lost, tired, hungry and confused until he meets up with a juggler who goes by the name of Bear. Frightening at first, he turns out to be a loveable character with the best interest of the boy in mind. The relationship between them deepens into that of a father/son relationship. The plot thickens when Bear reads the inscription on Ashta's Sons cross, discovering the truth of who the boy really is. He is Crispin, the illegitimate son of Lord Furnival, the man responsible for the terrible conditions that the common people are struggling through. Keeping the inscription a secret from the boy (who is illiterate--common for peasants in that time period) Bear now knows the reason why Crispin is hunted. Bear himself is a spy, trying to right the wrong and change how poor peasants are forced to live. He has a few dangerous secrets of his own. As the story builds to its climax most readers will be so engrossed that they will not be able to put the book down. I know that I couldnt.
The historical fiction is easy to read, full of suspense, intrigue and mystery. With only a few vocabulary boosting words, the language, representative of the the period, and terminology is easy enough for the target age group to comprehend.