A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Will Sparrow's Road is the latest historical novel by Karen Cushman, who won the Newbery medal for The Midwife's Apprentice. The book, which takes place in England at the end of the 16th century, is about a young boy who has escaped from the innkeeper to whom his father traded him for ale. Will endures physical and emotional hardships. He tries to harden himself against the world, lying and stealing to survive. Will winds up traveling from fair to fair, and he meets some kind people as well as some cheats and abusers. There are incidents of adults fist-fighting, resulting in bruises and minor injuries, as well as occurrences of adult-on-child violence. One man uses a walking stick as a weapon. The novel also includes a great deal of ale consumption by drinkers of all ages. Also note that a little person is laughed at and verbally abused.
What's the story?
Newbery medalist Karen Cushman's WILL SPARROW'S ROAD is a historical novel that takes place in Elizabethan England. Young Will's father exchanged his son for ale, and Will is on the run, having escaped the innkeeper who now owns him. Will has no family or friends, no boots, and no money. He vows to live as a liar and thief, telling himself he will trust no one and will care only for himself and his own belly. Fearful of being found and taken back to the innkeeper, or his father, Will tries to keep a low profile, eating whatever he can steal or find growing along his way. Eventually, he falls in with a troupe of hucksters led by Master Tidball, who hires Will to verbally advertise the "oddities and prodigies" (strange creatures in jars, a half-cat half-girl, a three-legged chicken) that fair-goers can view for a penny. Traveling from fair to fair, Will meets a host of colorful characters -- and learns to trust his true friends.
Is it any good?
Will Sparrow's Road isn't the fantastical, action-packed novel that many modern middle-grade readers are accustomed to. There's some tension and suspense when Will and his friends find themselves in sticky situations, but mainly this is a touching, fascinating story about some colorful characters, and about a historical time and place. Boys and rirls will identify with Will; they'll worry about him when he's hungry or in danger, and feel his sadness when he says good-bye to Duchess. This is a sweet book that will give kids a little history lesson as well as an enjoyable read.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Will's assertion that he cares "for no one but myself and for nothing but my belly." Why does he try to be so hard and independent?
Will Sparrow's Road is Karen Cushman's first novel with a male main character. Do you think she writes realistically from a boy's point of view?
What developments surprise Will in the book? What surprised you?
- Author: Karen Cushman
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Publication date: November 6, 2012
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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