Nancy Keane's Booktalks -- Quick and Simple

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Nancy Keane's Children's Website
New York : Hyperion Books for Children, 2002.
IL 5-8, RL 5.3
ISBN 0786808284

(5 booktalks)

Click on the book to read Amazon reviews
Booktalk 1

"Sir, you're hurting me."
"The Devil take your hurts.  Why did you run away?"
"I had to."
"Had to?" he said, his grasp so hard I thought my arm would snap.
"I ... was proclaimed a wolf's head."
A wolf's head!  In fourteenth-century medieval England, this means you can be killed on sight by anyone.  Thirteen-year-old Asta's son, Crispin, doesn't know why he's being falsely accused of stealing, why the extreme step of declaring him a "wolf's head" has been taken or why his enemies are pursuing him so relentlessly.  Now he's on the run in a world that is entirely strange to someone who has never left the tiny village in which he was born.  His only ally is the enormous man who call himself Bear.  Crispin is not entirely sure if Bear is a friend or an enemy.  His only clue to the mystery of his situation is the leaden cross that was his mother's only possession.  But he lacks the ability to read the words that are inscribed on it.  Join Crispin on a race across England to discover who he is and why someone wishes him dead!  (New Hampshire Great Stone Face Committee, 2003-2004)

Booktalk 2

Imagine being thirteen-years-old and knowing that if anyone, ANYONE!, killed you they would be rewarded. To be an orphan in the twelfth century was hard enough, but now this boy must find out who he is and why wealthy powerful people feel the need to kill him. There is so much to learn. Will "Asta's son" be able to find all the answers he needs to survive?  (Jean B. Bellavance for Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Awards, 2003-2004)

Booktalk 3

Life in 1377 England is not easy for 13-year-old Asta's son.  His mother has died and he is alone.  He is a serf bound to Lord Furnival and has no standing in society.  But something is not right.  He overhears a conversation that he does not understand and the next thing he knows, he is framed for murder and declared a wolf's head.  Now, he is fair game for anyone who wants to kills him for the reward money.  But why?  He is of no consequence -- he doesn't even have a name.  People all call him Asta's son.  Now he learns he has a real name -- Crispin.  But what does that have to do with being framed for murder?  As Crispin runs from the soldiers, he comes across Bear, a giant of a man who makes his living juggling and entertaining people.  What will become of this unlikely pair?  Will Crispin ever learn about his background and why he is in danger?

Booktalk 4

Only the priest and I were there to bury my mother. The village shunned her in death as they had in life. No sooner was my mother in the ground than John Aycliffe, the steward of the manor, appeared. "Asta's son", he called to me. I approached the unkind man, my head bowed. Aycliffe informed me I was to deliver our ox to the manor house as payment for the death tax. I protested that this would leave me with no way to make my living. I was, after all, only thirteen. He responded, "Then starve." And he rode away.

Greatly upset, I raced off into the forest, headless of my path. I tripped, hit my head on a stone, and let the darkness come. When I regained my bearings, my head throbbing, I tried to find my way in the dark of night. I saw a flickering light. Drawn in that direction, I saw two men. One was the hated Aycliffe, the other man I'd never seen before. They discussed in hushed tones. I could make no sense of their words, though they spoke of "great dangers." Aycliffe then turned. Our eyes met, he cried "Asta's son" and began, with sword drawn, to run for me. I crashed forward, tumbled over a cliff, and was saved by the extreme darkness and my own fall out of sight.

Next morning, I determined how to find my way back to the village. While distressed by my encounter the night before, I hoped that Aycliffe would not concern himself further with me. He had treated me badly before. I was about to emerge from the woods when I caught sight of the authorities heading for the cottage I had recently shared with my mother. Alarmed, I watched from the woods as they destroyed our cottage, first with axes, then by fire. Why should they have done such a thing? I dare not show myself until I had more knowledge of my situation.

That evening I heard the church bells toll. It called the villagers from all around. Once they had gathered they were beckoned into the church. I was longing to know what had been discussed. From my vantage point I saw the bailiff and the steward emerge from the manor house with other men from the village. All were armed and making ready for a search. My worst fears had come true: the village had been sent out to find me.

I determined to hide myself until such time as I could make my way back to the village to talk to the one person I could trust: Father Quinel. I hid in the branches of an enormous tree. Two villagers passed beneath and remarked that "Asta's son must have been driven mad by his mother's death to have broken into the manor house to steal money." I nearly fell from the tree. I was being accused of a theft I'd never committed.

When I finally found my way in the dead of night into the village and roused Father Quinel, I asked him what would happen if I were caught. He said I'd been declared a wolf's head. This meant I was considered not human and should be killed on sight. It seemed Father Quinel had much to tell me but was reluctant to do so. He did tell me, however, that when I was born, I'd been baptized with the name "Crispin." "I was?" I cried. He said it was done in secret and that my mother begged him to tell no one. Then he asked me what I knew of my father. I replied only that he had died before I was born. He would not tell me more, but begged me to leave and find my way to a town where I could live as a free person. I knew nothing of other places. Father Quinel said I was to come back the next night. He would give me provisions for my journey and tell me more about my father. And he gave me the cross of lead that had been around my mother's neck when she died.

So I hid in the forest another night. The next night I made my way to the meeting place but was told that Father Quinel could not meet me. In reality, he himself was killed. Now there is nothing for me to do but run. I've never been beyond my own village, but now I must run for my life.
Susan Bartel for The Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award

Booktalk #5

Here are but a few of the things that happened in the days following my mother's death. I was chased by the hated steward of our village, an unkind man named Aycliffe. He chased me after I saw him talking and "great dangers" in the middle of the forest. The cottage I'd shared with my mother was destroyed: first by axes, then by fire. Aycliffe claimed I'd stolen from the manor house. I'd never even been near that house. I was declared a wolf's head. This meant my life was worth that of an animal's. It meant I was to be killed on sight. The one person in the village I could trust, Father Quinel, told me my mother had christened me "Crispin." I'd not heard this name before. I had always been known only as "Asta's son." He gave me the lead cross my mother wore around her neck. He claimed my mother herself wrote the inscription on the cross. I always thought my mother unable to read or write. He was to tell me of my father, whom I'd always thought to be dead, but before he could tell me my own story, he himself was killed. Now there is nothing for me to do but run. I've never been beyond my own village, but now I must run for my life.

You'll be wanting to hear about my encounter with the juggler named Bear who takes me in and teaches me about music, making a living by one's wits, and . revolution. We make our way to Great Wexley where there will be a great feast and many people gathering. There we will entertain, clandestinely meet with others within the revolution, and see if we are able to avoid the trap that Aycliffe is laying for me.
Susan Bartel  for The Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award

SUBJECTS:     Identity -- Fiction.
                        Orphans -- Fiction.
                        Middle Ages -- Fiction.
                        Great Britain -- History -- Edward III, 1327-1377 --  Fiction.
                        Historical fiction.


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