Sunday, June 30, 2002

Crispin...and Other Stories of Boys of Unknown Origin

In my effort to familiarize myself with Newbery-award-winning books, I just polished off Crispin: The Cross of Lead. The book, the 50th by the author Avi, explores the life of a peasant boy who must deal with the death of his mother and then fleeing the only village he has ever known after being accused of a crime he didn't commit.

His journey pairs him with a juggler known as "Bear." The man takes Crispin under his wing as a sort of apprentice, but it turns out the man will also lead Crispin to find out the identity of the father he never knew.

As now happens with every book I read, I inevitably find similarities to my own writing. In this case, Crispin shares a common storyline with Otter and Arthur and the Sword in the Stone. Avi's story focuses on an orphaned boy coming of age in medieval England and being led to his destiny with the help of a wise, but sometimes mysterious, man who takes a special interest in the boy. That, of course, is also at the essence of the origins of the story of King Arthur as Merlin guides the boy, unaware of his true identity, to his destiny.

While such commonalities in stories might suggest a lack of originality, there is another interpretation - good stories aren't necessarily original. They just find a way to put a fresh spin on the familiar. That may happen in the portrayal of character (I particularly enjoyed Bear), description of setting (I loved the detailed descriptions of the town of Great Wexly), or the ability of an author to capture a world set in another time.

As I slog through the second draft of Otter and Arthur and the Round Table, the sequel to the Sword in the Stone book, I am reminded of these challenges. I am telling a familiar tale, but must keep an eye on how to bring a freshness to the story via my characters, settings, and era. It certainly doesn't guarantee me a Newbery award like Avi got, but then I've got another 48 books to go before I have his resume.