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Avi – Crispin: The Cross of Lead

September 24, 2008

117. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (2002)
Crispin, Book 1

Length: 262 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction

Started: 23 September 2008
Finished: 24 September 2008

Peasant boy must flee
and figure out who he is
before they kill him

Summary: At the start of the book, our protagonist has no name of his own; during his thirteen in a poor English medieval village, he’s only ever been known as “Asta’s son.” However, after his mother dies, he is not only turned out of his home, but declared a “wolf’s head” by the village steward – able to be killed without repercussion by any who sees him. He must flee for his life, armed only with his real name – Crispin – and a lead cross that belonged to his mother. He soon runs into Bear, a traveling juggler, who claims him as a servant, but treats him more like a son. However, life with Bear far from idyllic: men from his village continue to hunt Crispin, and Bear may be involved in dangerous business of his own.

Review: This book is a Newbery Medal winner, and while I can see in theory why it won, I didn’t feel it was up to par with other winners that I’ve read. Easily the best thing about it is the way it evokes the late 1300s in both setting and attitudes. Crispin’s awe at being out of his hometown – where a “huge” building was one that required a man standing on another man’s shoulders to reach the ceiling – effectively conveys the life and world of a medieval peasant. However, I felt like the relative proportions of description vs. plot were way off – the world is evoked excellently, but the book’s pretty light on actual story for at least the first two-thirds. Also, the book is ostensibly told from Crispin’s perspective, and to an experienced reader of historical fiction, his voice, tone, and vocabulary are distractingly modern and frequently inappropriate for the period and the character. It’s not a bad book, and it’s a quick read, but I didn’t find it to be a particular stand-out, either. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I can see how younger readers might really like this book, particularly boys who like other historical fiction at this level (like My Brother Sam is Dead, for example). However, it doesn’t weather the journey into adult readership particularly well.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: A video interview with Avi

Other Reviews: Tiny Little Reading Room, Becky’s Book Reviews, Puss Reboots
Did I miss your review? Let me know!

First Line: The day after my mother died, the priest and I wrapped her body in a gray shroud and carried her to the village church.


  • p. 126: “Then, when he stepped forward and snatched a mazer from the hands of one of the onlookers and added it to the revolving mix, there was laughter and applause.” – A large drinking bowl or goblet made of metal or hard wood.
9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2008 6:38 pm

    It seems a lot of medieval books win the Newbery. I’m not familiar with this one but I have My Brother Sam is Dead on the bookshelf.

    • Emily LEE permalink
      January 4, 2011 10:51 pm

      I’m in the 6th grade and read this book in class, My Brither Sam is dead is one of my FAVORiTES !

  2. September 24, 2008 7:11 pm

    I just went and looked at the list of Newbery winners, and it certainly does seem biased towards historical fiction, doesn’t it?

    I loved My Brother Sam is Dead when I was in junior high! Hopefully it makes the transition to adult readership better than this one did.

  3. September 25, 2008 6:02 am

    I remember reading a book by Avi when I was younger that I loved. I think it was called Poppy.

  4. September 25, 2008 11:23 am

    Avi’s an incredibly prolific author… I read (and loved!) The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle when I was younger, and I remember reading a few others of his books, but there’s so many, it’s hard to figure out which!

  5. September 25, 2008 11:36 am

    Not saying this is necessarily true about Crispin, but some yearly awards seem to get a bit desperate when it comes to finding a winner.

  6. September 26, 2008 12:47 pm

    bookchronicle – I’ve had very good luck in the past with Newbery winners, though, and there’s so much middle-grade fiction published that I can’t imagine they lack for choices.

    I don’t think Crispin was a bad choice, by any means – I just found it to be a little heavy on the (admittedly well-done) description and a little light on the action until right before the end of the book.

  7. nicole permalink
    August 13, 2009 5:09 pm

    I am reading this with my 10 & 8 year old sons. They enjoy the book because they like the suspense and adventure but I agree that the Crispin’s dialogue does not match up with the time that it is supposed to take place. Also I find the sentences to be very short and choppy which makes reading aloud not flow as nicely as it may with other books.

  8. Aine permalink
    May 27, 2010 9:18 pm

    The thing you all seem to be missing is the fact that this book was written for children, not adults. What child would be able to read this book if it were written true to the time period. The language was adapted so the target audience could understand it.

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