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Saturnalia
     

Saturnalia

by Paul Fleischman, Joel Spector (Illustrator)
 

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"I Want You To Know That My Eye Is Upon You"

It is December 1681, and the words of Mr. Baggot, the tithingman, terrify young William. William is living a strange double life. By day he is a printer's apprentice living in a white man's house. By night, he is Weetasket of the Narraganset tribe who must risk Baggot's wrath to search for his lost brother. Then comes

Overview

"I Want You To Know That My Eye Is Upon You"

It is December 1681, and the words of Mr. Baggot, the tithingman, terrify young William. William is living a strange double life. By day he is a printer's apprentice living in a white man's house. By night, he is Weetasket of the Narraganset tribe who must risk Baggot's wrath to search for his lost brother. Then comes the winter celebration of the Saturnalia — the ancient Roman holiday on which masters and slaves trade roles. Will William's secret be revealed? And what dark deed of others will be brought to light on this fateful night?

Editorial Reviews

New Yorker
A satiric novel full of atmosphere and suspense.
Children's Literature
Fleischman's delightful, satirical characterizations soften the tensions of life in Boston following the colonists' Great Swamp massacre of the mighty Narraganset Indians. It is 1681, and Native American William, know as Weetasket of the Narraganset tribe in his secret life, is a printer's apprentice for a caring, educated colonist. But the Boston tithingman, Mr. Baggot, who walks "the lightless lanes of sin, rooting out evil and blasphemy" and "parts the gale with his hatchet nose," is determined to see William hanged at the gallows. Fourteen-year-old William has an extraordinary memory, studies the Iliad and reads Greek with the children of the Currie family. William secretly walks the streets after curfew, in search of his twin brother Cancasset, the only surviving member of his family. Instead, he finds an uncle and niece, for whom he steals food. The uncle passes on the legends of the Narragansets so they will live on with William. At the winter solstice, Mr. Currie provides a burst of fun, imitating the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia, in which masters and servants traded places. On that very night, William's secret is discovered, but through his wit, he saves the lives of his uncle and niece. Fleischman's entertaining caricatures of such colonists as the piggish wigmaker and his devious, brazen manservant will bring many chuckles as the plot moves seriously through one narrow escape from danger after another. Readers enjoying a challenge will read straight through this short book and learn of prejudice in colonial life as well as bravery and character. 2001 (orig. 1992), Harper Trophy/Harper Collins, $4.95. Ages 14 up. Reviewer: Elaine Wick
School Library Journal
Gr 7 UpIt's December, 1681, and an assortment of pompous masters and impudent servants lead different lives by day and night. Events are woven together through the story of a 14-year-old Narraganset Indian boy who is searching for threads of his past. Melodious writing, revealing images, and a colorful, outlandish cast characterize this unusual novel that revels in surprises. (May 1990)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780064470896
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/28/1992
Series:
A Charlotte Zolotow Bk.
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
128
Product dimensions:
4.22(w) x 7.01(h) x 0.33(d)
Lexile:
1030L (what's this?)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Weathervanes Of Boston were pointed north -- the frigates, the angels, the cocks, the cows -- and so, below, was Mr. Baggot. Marching down a dim alleyway, he raised his eyes from the shin-deep snow and gazed with envy at a rooftop rooster. The wooden bird was perched high enough to be sunning itself in the first light of day. While he himself, mused Mr. Baggot, trudged along in perpetual darkness, walking, the lightless lanes of sin, rooting out evil and blasphemy. Such was the life of a tithingman.

It was December of. 1681 and tombstone-cracking cold. Having bested fifty previous winters, Mr. Baggot was undeterred by the freezing gust of wind scouring his face and strode powerfully ahead without pause, parting the gale with his hatchet nose. In one hand he carried a wellworn copy of Spiritual Stepping-Stones for the Young. In the other he carried the symbol of hisoffice, a walnut staff knobbed at one end and bearing a fox's tail on the other. In fulfilling his duties at Sunday's church service, he'd banged the staff's knob on the doltish heads of a variety of squirming, whispering, laughing, face-making, Satan-claimed children, while waking no less than four dozing adults with a tickle of the foxtail. Following this, he'd used it to trip a pair of boys running from the meetinghouse, had reported two men for swearing and one for shamelessly splitting wood on the Sabbath, and yesterday, to his great disgust, had descended into the hellish waterfront taverns in search of disorderly patrons. How far this foul metropolis was from the paradise it had promised! A thought punctuated by theemptying, from above, of a chamber pot directly in his path.

He turned onto King Street and nearly collided with a scissors grinder pushing his wheel. Tinkers, broom makers, fishwives, and wood sellers all sent their cries toward the roof of Heaven. Horses, carts, and rumbling wagons shook the Devil from bed below. Mr. Baggot tramped on, his cloak flappingin the breeze so that he seemed to be constantly changing shape, as if made of black quicksilver., In the distance he glimpsed a pair of ships, sails full, leaving Boston harbor. Closer at hand, he spotted a shop sign in the shape of a book, and girded himself.

Like the town's other tithingmen, he had spiritual charge of ten families, noting with care their attendance at services and testing their chil dren's knowledge of Scripture. Among the homes on his circuit, none distressed him like that of Charles Currie, printer, a man of great knowledge who seemed to prefer the companionship of his books on Sundays to that of his neighbors in church. And among the young under Mr. Currie's roof, none irked him like William, the printer's apprentice. Not because the, boy failed to study, like most -- but because he knew far too much.

Mr. Baggot, entered the printer's front room, causing the shop's bell to tinkle softly. Waiting for his presence to be noted, he sniffed breakfast, heard talking farther within, glanced about at the books, papers, pins, and other sundries for sale, coughed conspicuously, took off his cloak listened to an outburst of general merriment, and finally pounded his staff on the floor.

"Ah, good Mr. Baggot." Mr. Currie's round, reddish face appeared around a doorway. "You find us at breakfast, Will you take some bread and milk?"

"Bread and milk leave me hungry," Mr. Baggot~ replied sternly. "Feeding the soul is my object. Your children's ravenous ones, this morning."

Mr. Currie smiled faintly. "Allow me a moment to instruct their souls to fetch bowl and spoon." Turtlelike, he drew in his head, while Mr. Baggot wondered whether he'd been mocked. He felt his anger smoke, then ignite, ransacked his brains for some revenge on the man, and found himself staring at a calendar for December on the wall. His eyes traveled down to the twenty-fifth and narrowed. In the printer's favor, Mr. Baggot had never known him -- or any but a handful -- to celebrate Christmas in any way, much less with the feasting, dicing, and drinking that marked that reeking day in England. However, the tithingman had heard tell that in this same month of the year Mr. Currie, out of his love for the ancient authors, imitated the Romans of old and observed a Saturnalia, a depraved, pagan festivity in which masters and servants traded places. Was this not far worse than Christmas reveling? The man, he noted, bore closer watching.

Mr. Currie returned, guided Mr. Baggot, down a hall, past the printing room, into the house's living quarters, and left him at a long bench near the hearth upon which perched six children of assorted heights.

"Now then." Mr. Baggot removed the hat from his wispy, wind-tormented red hair and straightened himself to his full six feet. His staff in one hand, he opened his book with the other and paced before the bench.

"Sarah. Who was the oldest man?"

"Methuselah," stated a confident voice.

"James. Who was the most patient man?"

."Job," came the reply.

"Timothy. Who, was the most hard-hearted man?"

"Judas," lisped Mr. Currie's youngest son.

The tithingman rapped his head with his staff. "Pharaoh!" he corrected. "As sure as you're the most hardheaded boy in all Boston!"

Mr. Baggot paced, stopping before William, Mr. Currie's fourteen-year-old apprentice. He was tall and thin as a spring shoot, growing up through and out of his black breeches and white shirt. The tithingman stared. at him in silence. How very English he looks, he reflected. A wig on his head, stockings on his calves, pewterbuckled shoes on his feet How avidly he reads. How well he speaks. How universally admired he is. And how black is his barbarous heart, he added.

Meet the Author


Paul Fleischman grew up in Santa Monica, California in a house with a printing press, a grand piano, a shortwave radio, and his father – children’s author Sid Fleischman. Playing recorder in early music consorts led to his books of verbal duets – I Am Phoenix, Joyful Noise (winner of the 1989 Newbery Medal), and Big Talk. His novels built from monologues include Bull Run, a 16-character account of the Civil War's first battle, and Seedfolks – the chronicle of the first year of a Cleveland community garden. His interest in theater inspired his young adult novels Mind's Eye, Seek, and Breakout, all of which revolve around the spoken word. His historical fiction includes Saturnalia and The Borning Room. He's written nonfiction and picture books as well, including Time Train, Weslandia, and Sidewalk Circus. Alongside the Newbery Medal, he's won a Newbery Honor Book, the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, the PEN West Literary Award, the California Young Reader Medal, and most recently was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Award. He makes his home in the village of Aromas, California.

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