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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The Beatryce Prophecy carries a strong pro-education message, as the characters live in a world where regular people aren't allowed to learn to read and write, and the protagonists think this is very wrong. It also celebrates the power and craft of storytelling. Beatryce's family name is Abelard, which may lead some readers to google the harrowing medieval star-crossed love story of Heloise and Abelard.
Strong messages of courage, family, friendship; the importance of learning, creative thinking, and problem solving. Also humor, perseverance, accepting responsibility, finding your place in the world and defining it for yourself. Characters draw comfort from the message "We shall all, in the end,/ be led to where we belong./ We shall all, in the end,/ find our way home."
Positive Role Models
Thanks in large part to the determination of her mother, who's in the background, imprisoned by the villain, for much of the story, imaginative Beatryce loves reading, writing, learning, and storytelling -- all of which now put her in mortal danger. But she has friends who love her, notably Answelica the goat, Brother Edik the monk, and Jack Dory the orphan boy, as well as a hermit they meet in the woods, and their bond, bravery, individual talents, and quick thinking help them in time of peril. Some adults, living and dead, are kind and supportive when it's most needed. Others are quick to look the other way when someone's in need but it might cause them trouble. An evil counselor who's discovered the advantages of being the power behind the throne is responsible for much death and suffering as he pulls the strings of his easily-manipulated puppet king and tries to stop the threat Beatryce represents to his power.
Beatryce's mother defied law and convention in this medieval society by insisting her daughter be educated the same as her sons. Beatryce is now in danger because she knows how to read and write. She shaves her head and disguises herself as a male monk in training to escape the king's forces who want her dead due to a prophecy of "a girl child who will unseat a king." The cast of characters is White.
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Violence & Scariness
The entire world is involved in a war that long since killed Beatryce's father and has a way of reaching into every aspect of daily life, whether you're a victim, a participant, or just trying to lie low and survive it all. Beatryce's brothers have been brutally murdered in the past, and she is in mortal danger throughout the story -- not just because her family's killers still seek her, but because she's a girl who knows how to read. All the monks but her one friend are too scared to protect her, and choose to abandon her to her fate. Jack Dory's parents were slain by robbers in the woods; he has nightmares of his mother's screams, and he dreams of revenge; the sword that killed his parents and Beatryce's brothers is important to the story. A knight is haunted by his past bloodshed and a creepy, smelly angel of death. An adult character is traumatized because when he was little, his family abandoned him at the monastery and never returned. On the more slapstick side, Answelica the goat terrorizes the monks but adores Beatryce and saves the day more than once with a well-timed bite or head butt.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Beatryce Prophecy is a fable by Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie, A Tale of Despereaux), with lively illustrations by Sophie Blackall. Set in a war-torn medieval world, it involves a 10-year-old princess being pursued by soldiers who have already murdered her tutor and younger brothers; the brief refuge she finds, thanks to a kind monk and a protective goat, at a monastery; and the consternation it causes when they learn she can read and write, which is very, very forbidden for girls in their world. With her head shaved and a new disguise as a monk-in-training, Beatryce tries to figure out her new place in the world and how to stay alive. Fortunately, she soon realizes she has strong, loving friends -- not just Brother Edik (the monk) and Answelica (the goat), but also Jack Dory, a resourceful orphan who's still grieving over his murdered parents and dreaming of revenge but finds new purpose in protecting Beatryce. In the background for most of the story is Beatryce's noble mother -- now imprisoned by the villainous king -- who's defied law and convention by insisting her daughter be educated the same as her sons. Lots of danger, captivity in dank dungeons, and a creepy, smelly angel of death. Also lots of heart, humor, celebration of learning and the power of storytelling.
Is It Any Good?
Kate DiCamillo spins a lively, heart-filled fable of a smart girl in mortal danger and her friends -- a goat, a monk, and an orphan -- who aren't about to let that happen. The Beatryce Prophecy strikes a fine balance between belly laugh (often courtesy of Answelica the goat) and heartstring-tugging (as when kindly Brother Edik ponders life's betrayals), with Sophie Blackall's plentiful black-and-white illustrations enriching the narrative.
Here, Beatryce, embarking on a scary task, ponders her new companion, Jack Dory:
"Jack Dory started to whistle a jaunty song.
"Beatryce looked down at the goat. She said, 'I think he pretends to be happy. I think that deep inside he is sad. Those he loves are dead. He is alone in the world.'
"Answelica looked up at her, listening.
"'I am not afraid,' Beatryce said to the goat. 'I will not be afraid.
"She bumped her head against Beatryce's leg. Beatryce took hold of her ear.
"'I am not afraid at all,' said Beatryce again."
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