While "Crispin" might sound like a delicious breakfast cereal that won't get soggy in milk, Crispin: The Cross of Lead is actually the first book in Avi's trilogy about Crispin, a thirteen-year-old boy living in the 14th century. The fact that crispy breakfast cereals hadn't been invented in 1377 is the least of this kid's problems, though.
See, after Crispin's mother dies, leaving him only a cross of lead (hence the title), the steward of the local manor decides Crispin needs to depart this world, too. And so Crispin spends most of the novel on the run from the wicked steward, all while trying to figure out what's up with the dude's sudden homicidal mania and what the words on his cross say. Makes our mornings sound kind of tame by comparison.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead was published in 2002 and won the 2003 Newbery Medal, which is awarded each year by the Association of Library Services to Children for the best children's book published in the United States in the previous year. It is the first book in the Crispin trilogy and was followed by Crispin: At the Edge of the World in 2006 and Crispin: The End of Time in 2010. In other words, if you like your first bowl of Crispin, you can have seconds and even thirds. This first installment, though, has the distinction of being Avi's fiftieth book. Yes, we said fiftieth. With a 5-0. If you like Avi, you're in luck, is what we're saying.
You're also in luck if you like hidden identities, sword fights, and slow deaths by torture and starvation or quick deaths by hanging and sharp and/or blunt instruments. Okay, we're guessing you're not super into terrible deaths (or we're kind of you hoping you aren't, anyway), but either way, welcome to the 14th century, when might makes right and only a few people have any rights at all. The wicked steward has a corrupt legal system on his side, and our hero, Crispin, is declared not even legally human at the beginning of the story.
So forget cereal. Grab a bagel or a toaster strudel and get ready to tag along on the adventure of a lifetime.
We've come a long way since the 1300s, right? ... Or have we?
Crispin: The Cross of Lead is about a guy who's falsely accused, and because the guy who's behind the false accusation is powerful and Crispin isn't, guess how much chance Crispin has of getting justice. Yeah, not much.
The steward—who's like the rent collector, building super, and school principal all rolled into one—says Crispin, who is the poorest of peasants, stole some money. Then he says Crispin killed a priest. Then he declares that because Crispin did all this, he is now legally not even human, meaning anyone can kill him on sight. The thing is, Crispin didn't do any of this terrible stuff and pretty much everyone knows it, but because the steward holds all the power, no one can challenge him. Crispin's in deep doodoo for doing nothing at all.
That's what this story is all about—false accusation and how people with money or power can manipulate the system to get away with just about anything while pinning the blame squarely on people with less money or power. Unfortunately, that's something that hasn't changed much in several hundred years. Crispin: The Cross of Lead asks us to think about whether or not might still makes right, and more importantly, why societies allow it to happen.
Like Goodreads's Little Sister
There's a review of Crispin: The Cross of Lead at kidsreads.com. So click on through to find out what kids think of this book.
Straight to the Source
Here's Avi's official webpage for Crispin: The Cross of Lead. From this page, you can click through to the rest of Avi's website, which includes information about his many other books.
Stop the Presses
This is the official interview Avi provides with his press kit. Fancy, we know.
The Story Behind the Book
Here's an interview Avi gave specifically about Crispin: The Cross of Lead. As a bonus, there's a bit of advice for aspiring writers tucked in at the end, too.
Questions and Answers
Here's a transcript of an online bulletin board interview where students asked Avi questions and discussed his books, including Crispin: The Cross of Lead. It's like eavesdropping, but for school.
Crispin in 90 Seconds
Here's an entry in the "90-Second Newbery" Film Festival, presenting Crispin: The Cross of Lead, silent movie style.
Avi on Avi
Watch an interview with Avi in which he talks about writing, reading, and his symptoms of dyslexia.
What Does Crispin Mean to You?
Five young readers discuss Crispin: The Cross of Lead. Check it out and feel free to agree or disagree with what this middle schoolers say.
Straight From the Horse's—er, Author's—Mouth
Here you can listen to Avi read from all three books in the Crispin Trilogy.
Run For Your Life
This is the U.S. cover for Crispin: The Cross of Lead.
No Electricity in the 14th Century
The U.K. cover suggests Crispin is into candles as well as crosses.
This is the picture Avi uses for all publicity purposes.