Quill & Quire
Kathleen McDonnell vividly brings the 13th-century world of these child crusaders to life, but 1212 is also a novel that feels very contemporary in its exploration of the themes of religious tolerance, empire building, and war and peace.
"You can identify with the characters."
Quill & Quire - Jeffrey Canton
"Kathleen McDonnell vividly brings the 13th-century world of these child crusaders to life, but 1212 is also a novel that feels very contemporary in its exploration of the themes of religious tolerance, empire building, and war and peace. "
VOYA - Megan Lynn Isaac
The Children's Crusade of 1212 was by some accounts inspired by the young French shepherd Etienne. But it may also have been merely a mass movement of young and impoverished rural people. The absence of strong historical documentation leaves the event open to explanation, an opportunity that McDonnell embraces and fully discusses in her afterword. In this tale, Etienne is inspired by a dream and the devout example of Francis of Assisi to initiate a crusade of young people. He is befriended and joined by Abel, a young Jewish scholar from Paris, and Blanche, an orphaned member of the persecuted Christian sect called the Cathars. Together they struggle to unite the children who join them, to inspire them through periods of terrible hardship, and to maintain their varied understandings of what a genuinely loving and peaceful world might look like. Despite Etienne's ability to see nearly every obstacle as a test and inspiration, disaster soon overtakes everyone. McDonnell imagines a martyr's death for Etienne, and the later episodes of the novel alternate between Blanche's attempts to remain true to her outlawed faith in France and Abel's experiences as an enslaved tutor to a Muslim Sultan. The novel is filled with bloody adventure and serves to introduce readers to the complex religious world of the middle ages, even as it portrays an idealized and very anachronistic vision of theological tolerance. Nonetheless all three characters are flat, distant, and not compelling, and the book struggles to meet its clearly ambitious purpose.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
We don't generally have historical fiction this challenging for teenagers, at least not in the US. It tells of the Children's Crusade, in 1212, when a shepherd had a vision that inspired thousands of young people across France and Germany to walk to Jerusalem to convince the Moslems there of Christ's love. The historical facts are that such a youth, Etienne, urged children to follow him; when they reached Marseille, unscrupulous merchant sailors offered to take them for free across the Mediterranean to the Holy Land. Many children died at sea and those who survived passage were sold into slavery. It was a catastrophe. McDonnell tells her fictional story using three French characters: Etienne, Abel (a Jew), and Blanche (a Cathar, or heretic). Abel is drawn to Etienne as a friend, and he yearns for adventure and for Olam Ha-Ba, the Jewish vision of a world where all faiths get along. Blanche has lost her entire family in a massacre by Roman Catholic fanatics; she takes her musical instrument, disguises herself as a boy, and follows the crusaders because she is lonely and has nothing to lose. Etienne is wounded by his mother's desertion when she had a religious vision that took her into seclusion, away from her son. The intolerance of the Catholic Church prevails, whether in the persecution of heretics and Jews, or the greed and savagery that inspired the Crusades endorsed by the Pope. (The Pope never approved of the Children's Crusade.) Francis of Assisi is an inspiring heroic figure who appears in this story; the connection is made that Blanche's faith, like that of Francis of Assisi, was based on a revulsion for the wealth and power of the Church. McDonnell tells about more thanjust 1212, the year of the crusade; she continues Abel's story and Blanche's story for 20 years into the future, with brief chapters that tell of Abel's fate as a slave connected to an enlightened Moslem ruler in Egypt, and Blanche's life linked once again to her people in southern France, hunted and persecuted by the Church. Readers interested in religious history and European history will appreciate McDonnell's fine work.
Children's Literature - Beverley Fahey
The Children's Crusade forms the backdrop for this gripping tale of the historic march by children who believed they could accomplish peacefully what countless bloody crusades had not done, and that was to unite Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Etienne, whose vision in a dream confirmed for him that God had chosen him to lead the children in this endeavor, leaves his sheep to take up his new role. Abel, a young Jewish student who is both awed and perplexed by Etienne's conviction and innocence, joins him after witnessing his encounter on the streets of Paris with the King. A month into the journey, Blanche, a member of the Good Christians sect who has witnessed the massacre of her family by the evil Simon de Montfort, joins the group out of desperation as well as belief in the cause. The small army of children grows and so does Etienne's burden of how to feed and care for such a large group. For support and guidance he turns to his trusted confidante, Abel, who is the voice of reason. Both Blanche and Able must hide the secret of their religious convictions from Etienne out of fear they will become outcasts. Through famine, drought, and denunciation from the Church in Rome the children struggle on, only to face further perils, such as shipwrecks and slavery. This is a powerful story that incorporates much from the historical event into the fictionalized account. It is a story not of blind faith, instead detailing the doubt that accompanied the children's conviction, as well as chronicling how easily these poor peasant children were swept along. The number of cruel and vicious deaths make this not for the faint of heart. The Church in Rome, the Pope, and clerics are not spared harshcriticism for the role they played in this black period of the Church. It is also a love story, for both Etienne and Blanche found themselves deeply in love, and for all his life, Abel cherished the memory of the boy he loved as a brother. The chronicle ends with two chapters that fast-forward to 1219 and 1233 respectively to tie up loose ends in the lives of Abel and Blanche, but they lack the taut writing of the events of 1212 and might better have been summoned up in an epilogue. Thoughtful young teens will not only be caught up in the drama and tension of the crusade, but may reflect that in 2007 Muslims, Christians, and Jews have yet to reach Olam Ha-Bacoexistence among the faiths as equals.
School Library Journal
Violence perpetrated by the Church of Rome in the name of God in the early 13th century forms the background for this story. Etienne, a poor boy from Cloyes, France, reacts to a vision in which St. Nicholas instructs him to lead a crusade of children to Jerusalem. He is joined by Abel, a Jewish boy who has been studying in Paris, and Blanche, a member of the Good Christians, those who do not do the bidding of the Church of Rome, as well as thousands of other children. The plot has convenient twists and some gaps. It is hard to understand, for example, how Abel is able to keep his Judaism hidden from the others, as he continues to observe Shabbat. Though the three main characters experience realistic periods of self-doubt, they are awkwardly drawn and the dialogue often sounds like a religious tract. Also, the author's attempt to show an underlying commonality of belief among the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and the Muslim faith is heavy-handed and almost forced on the story, and Etienne's leadership and ability to inspire the others who join the crusade is not convincing. This offering is disappointing.
Renee SteinbergCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.