Last semester I decided I need to read more award winning children and young adult fiction. I need to be more aware of what is out there to better help my students find what they love to read. Because surprisingly, struggling readers in middle school are not always big fans of Russian literature (though I once told a glass the plot of Dead Souls as I was reading it, and they were fascinated).
So, searching through the Newberry award and honoree books, I found this little gem. Adam Gidwitz's The Inquisitor's Tale is an odd mixture of historical fiction, legend, and morality play. The best way I can describe it is that it is the middle ages as those who lived in it might have experienced. The seamless movement from history to legend would not have surprised someone in that time period.
The boo centers around three "magical children and their holy dog." The young girl, Jeanne (or Joan) has visions. William is a half-Arab monk with Herculean strength. And Jacob is a Jewish boy with the power to heal. They are guarded by a saintly dog recently resurrected from the dead (also based on a legend).
This book also moves from raucous humor to deep pathos. Two of the children have to battle a farting dragon. And yet, would that really be out of place in The Canterbury Tales? And according to the author's note, it is based on a legend. The book moves from this adolescent body humor to a tragic scene from history. In 1240, twenty-four cartloads of Jewish writings were burned in Paris. The children weep from the loss of learning, also witnessing their mentor and friend burned for his attempt to interfere.
The children find themselves in an inn, questioning how a good God can let such evil happen. Enter the troubadour. He tells them he can answer their question. First he sings them the song of Hildebrand. Hildebrand is an old warrior. He is sent to fight against a younger man. The younger man mentions he is the son of the famous warrior Hildebrand. The old man tries to tell his son that he is his father. The young man refuses to believe it. The song ends with them readying for battle where Hildebrand must face either being killed or killing his son.
One of the boys says he hates the song. But Jeanne loves it. "It's so....rich and sad and beautiful. It feels...true." At which point the singer of the song says, "That's my answer to your question! You asked why God would make bad things happen? I'll tell you why. God is a troubadour." He goes on to explain that for Hildebrand the song isn't beautiful, "but that's because he can't hear it. He's in it.
One of the boys asks how the death of their friend and the death of his parents could be beautiful. The troubadour replies, that their deaths aren't beautiful, "but the song might still be."
A beautiful idea in a quirky book that I will remember.