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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Crowfield Curse, written by Pat Walsh. Scholastic, 2010. $8.99 ages 9 and up

"From the moment he crossed the bridge by the abbey gatehouse, William had the feeling he was being watched. The feeling persisted when he turned off the main trackway and headed northward. He was tense and watchful as he walked along, but whatever was keeping pace with him through the trees remained hidden."

I was always so cold and hungry while reading Will's story. He lives in an abbey in the mid-fourteenth century. It is winter and the winds blow through the walls at all times of day and night. He sleeps near the kitchen fire under one slight blanket where he shivers and longs for a deep sleep that will allow him to forget the eternal chill and hunger. The food that Brother Martin cooks for the monks is meagre and often tasteless, or tastes terrible. They scrounge what they can from the forest, and from the villagers who have extras to share. It is a life without warmth or much love.

Will is a servant in the abbey and has been in service since the death of his family members in a fire. He works hard to earn his room and board, and has three friends. Brother Snail keeps the monks healthy and cares for their garden. Peter, a young man from the village helps with the menial tasks around the abbey. His new friend is a hob. This brilliant story begins when Will finds the hob, snared in the steel jaws of a hidden trap and sufferng with a broken and torn leg. He releases him from the trap and takes him home to Brother Snail for treatment and ongoing care. They become fast friends, as Will realizes that he has 'the sight' and can see into a world of magic and mayhem.

Pat Walsh creates characters who are so totally believable that it is easy to forget the story is part history, and part fantasy. She does a commendable job of making this story one that pulls the reader from page to page, always wanting to know what will happen next. There is humor in the relationship between Will and the tiny goblin who loves to cling with his tail to Will's neck, arm or leg. There is love between Will and Brother Snail, whose ailing body cannot do the work that is demanded of it. Will is pleased to help out.
There is terror. It arrives in the form of two strangers seeking shelter at the abbey and information. It takes no time for Will to realize that they have ulterior motives for being where they are. Through questioning and personal searching, Will is able to link both Jacobus Bone, a leper and former musician, and  his servant Shadlock to the long-ago death of an angel and its burial place. Suddenly, Will's small and fairly secure world expands to a much darker and more sinister one,  when he is asked to accompany the men on a journey into the nearby woods. As he recognizes what is happening, he has no one to turn to and divluge these discoveries. He must keep up the pretence that nothing has changed.
But, all things are changed and Will's life is about to take a pretty dramatic turn. It is this tension and conflict that kept me reading right through to the end, and wondering what is next in store for this fine young man who does a lot of learning due to his many experiences and finds he has a new purpose for the future.

The writing is impeccable, the characters so memorable and the setting makes my old bones ache. What a wonderful readaloud for an intermediate or middle years classroom!

And I will not so patiently await the arrival of The Crowfield Demon which was published in February this year. I'll keep you posted.

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