Published by Dutton Children’s Books
Summary: The first magic child is Jeanne, a French peasant girl who occasionally has “fits” in which she can see the future. The second is William, a half-African giant of a boy with legendary strength, whose father dropped him off in a monastery when he returned from the Crusades. The third is Jacob, a Jewish boy whose parents were killed when his village was burned down by some Christian kids/hooligans. And the dog is Gwenforte, a greyhound who was accidentally killed by Jeanne’s parents when she was a baby, and who has reappeared near her grave a decade later. Somehow these four find each other and begin a journey through 13th-century France in which they gain the reputation for being either saints or heretics. They befriend a king, are rescued by an angel, and save the last copies of the Talmud after a massive book burning in the center of Paris. Their story is pieced together by an unnamed listener, sitting in a tavern and hearing bits and pieces from various travelers. Along the way, they learn that their friendship is stronger than the hate that divides those around them by class and religion. A 14-page author’s note (“Where did this story come from?”) tells more about the history of the Middle Ages and some of the characters that appear in the book. 384 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: Ironically, the most timely story of the year is one that takes place in 1242. The prejudices, politics, and poverty are all as sadly familiar to us today as they were almost 800 years ago. And the last chapter’s call to bear witness to what’s good in life is as inspiring to today’s reader as it was to Jeanne, William, and Jacob. The “illuminations” on each page add to the Middle Ages feel. If I were the Newbery committee, this book would get some recognition.
Cons: The somewhat picaresque nature of this book, as well as the time period it’s set in, may make this hard to sell in a 30-second booktalk.