Crispin: The Cross of Lead is one of those classics that I missed along the way. Luckily and happily, I am currently taking a historical fiction class that will help me fill in the gaps. Get ready for lots of historical fiction reviews!
At the beginning of the novel, Crispin has a miserable life. He is a medieval serf, uneducated and penniless, who never knew his father. When his mother dies and he is unjustly accused of a crime, Crispin needs to flee his village in order to survive. While he dodges those who pursue him, he makes an unlikely friend and moves closer towards learning who he really is.
Avi's ability to convey complex historical information to a young audience is admirable. I don't know much about the medieval period, so I learned a lot about the era and lifestyle. One prominent theme is the role of religion in everyone's lives, which lends this book to a great cross-curricular unit with social studies.
One thing that irritated me was Crispin's complete lack of common sense. As an uneducated peasant, I did not expect him to know the ways of the world. But his inability to heed the advice of more knowledgeable people was frustrating. At times, I wanted to shake him and just say, "Whatever you think is right? Do the opposite!" I'm curious if this is the mature adult in me speaking or if students will feel the same. I'll be able to find out as some of my students will be reading this novel later in the year.
I can't help but compare Crispin to Avi's other Newbery honored novel, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Both novels feature a protagonist who is thrust into a world for which they are unprepared, who later become independent and heroic. I greatly prefer Charlotte, because the novel is more suspenseful, while Crispin's plot twist is fairly evident from the beginning. Still, the more the merrier when it comes to historical fiction that will hook young readers.