Second, I want to point out that last Saturday, March 25th, was Tolkien reading day. Our Carolinas SCBWI leader, Teresa Fannin, sent me a beautiful article explaining the significance of the date. Apparently dates in Tolkien's books are just as carefully chosen as the names of his characters. I celebrated Tolkien reading day by reading John Ronald's Dragons at Scuppernong's Bookstore, a warm, quirky community bookstore in downtown Greensboro.
Third, I want to review a book I read over my spring break, Adam Gidwitz's middle grade novel The InQuisitor's Tale.
Adam Gidwitz's three main characters are two boys and a girl as in the Harry Potter formula, but he builds on this formula by adding a dog and by making one child black, one child Jewish, and one child a peasant, thus taking on the topics of class, race, and religion.
Gidwitz builds on actual Saints' legends, which are great and gory stories, and mixes them up with the modern superhero trope. And what are saints but superheros with magical powers? The mash up makes the past new and the present old.
Again following a classic kid lit formula the three children are relieved of parental comfort and authority early in the novel. In picaresque fashion they wander the French countryside and have adventures with silly knights, a farting dragon, a close minded queen, and a fat angel. But along with the fart jokes, Gidwitdz takes on deep questions: the origins of mistrust and conflict between Christians and Jews, the construction of racial difference, the banning and burning of books and the biggest question--if God is good, why does he allow terrible suffering.
Also, the book is beautiful to behold. The illustrator, Hatem Aly, has decorated the margins with charming illuminations and doodles that are like the text, historically informed but also modern. I now want to read the book a second time (I had to read it really fast the first time to find out what happens), and dawdle and peruse the pictures and their relationship to the text. I also love that this is a book about mutual understanding between different religions and the author is Jewish and the illustrator is Muslim. What could be more perfect?
And for adults who read the book to their children (and why wouldn't you?) you must read the elegant author's note which explains how much of the story is based on actual medieval legends and lore.