I’ve submitted this as part of the 13th Kid Lit Blog Hop:
[Edited 4/3/13 to add Kidlit Blog Hop link.]
Will Sparrow’s Road by Karen Cushman. Read by Katherine Kellgren.
This is the most recent audio book that my son and I listened to. I was excited for this books on two counts – a main character I thought he would easily identify with from historical fiction favorite Cushman, paired with narration by our favorite Katherine Kellgren. I was not disappointed. Young Will’s mother ran away when he was very young, and his alcoholic father has since sold him to the innkeeper for beer. When the innkeeper says he’s selling him as a chimney sweep, Will runs for his life. Life isn’t easy for a homeless and penniless boy in Elizabethan England. After quite a while of trying to make it on his own, having his few possessions stolen and living in turn mostly off of stolen green apples, Will discovers the Fair. Not only do the food booths there provide easier targets, but the many performers there offer a means of earning actual money. He’s gotten a job passing the hat for a juggler and met a kind man with a trained pig named Duchess when the juggler unexpectedly leaves, sending him to a Master Trumball, owner of the Oddities and Commodities stall. Master Trumball travels from fair to fair with his combination mini-museum and freak show, which includes a baby mermaid in a jar, a girl with a furry face like a cat’s, and a foul-tempered and ugly dwarf named Lancelot FitzHugh. Will travels England, getting to know the colorful regional fairs, which is quite a lot of fun. But as he gets to know the people he’s traveling with, he also learns a lot about himself, about prejudice and that a person’s nature isn’t necessarily matched to his or her appearance. He goes – slowly, with some painful lurching – from viewing the cat girl as a mostly cat monster, to seeing her as a friend and helping her in her quest for a human name (she decides to go from Graymalkin to Grace Wise) and a life apart from being an Oddity, for example, and has similar revelations about his other companions. Although some of the character revelations came sooner to me than to my son, we were both waiting anxiously to find out what would happen to Will Sparrow and Grace Wise. It’s told in energetic, language that strikes a graceful balance between being easy-to-understand and having the flavor of Elizabethan language – both my son and the three-year-old now frequently go around saying, “Nay – ne’er!” from listening to this. Real Elizabethan songs (mostly of the tavern variety) appear frequently, of course sung beautifully and accurately by Kellgren. (What to make of my boy being old enough to cover his face in embarrassment when Will sang his own variation on “Greensleeves” to Grace Wise?) I also noticed my son being more appreciative of always having enough to eat, even if he’s still a very cautious eater, as Will is always hungry, and lovingly describes every good thing to eat that comes his way. Cushman concludes with an author’s note about English fairs and provides historical background for the people and acts at her fairs. Will Sparrow’s Road is a tempting mix of an exciting historical setting and plot with strong, likeable characters and a not-medicinal dose of thoughtfulness.