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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442383876
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Edition description: Unabridged
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Ann Packer is the critically acclaimed author of two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me and Mendocino and Other Stories, and two nationally bestselling novels, Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, which received the Kate Chopin Literary Award among many other prizes and honors. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and in the O. Henry Prize Stories anthologies, and her novels have been translated into a dozen languages and published around the world. She lives in San Carlos, California.


San Carlos, California

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

Stanford, California


B.A., Yale University; M.F.A., University of Iowa

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The Children's Crusade



Reading Group Guide


This reading group guide for The Children’s Crusade includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. We hope that these questions will enrich your reading group’s conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, a masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family over the course of five decades


1. Explain the significance of the title of the book. What is the “children’s crusade”? Did your interpretation of the title change as you read?

2. One of Rebecca’s friends tells her, “Your dad is like a mom” (p. 35). Discuss Bill and Penny’s parenting styles. What did you think of Penny as a mother?

3. Discuss the structure of The Children’s Crusade. What is the effect of allowing each of the Blair children to narrate parts of the story? Packer intersperses the chapters from the children’s points of view with chapters where events are recounted in the third person. Why do you think she chose to do so?

4. At the outset of The Children’s Crusade all four of the Blair children were “united in [their] desire” to keep their childhood home, but they have their “separate rationalizations” (p. 160). Why are the children reluctant to sell the house? Do these rationalizations give you any insight into their personalities?

5. When Ryan and Sierra become romantically involved, the narrator tells the reader, “Robert had had a girlfriend for almost three months, but until today [Rebecca] hadn’t truly believed anyone in her family would ever love someone outside it” (p. 254). What does Ryan’s relationship with Sierra make Rebecca understand? Discuss the romantic relationships of the Blair children. How does their parents’ marriage influence those relationships?

6. During a Thanksgiving visit to Penny’s parents, the children put together a jigsaw puzzle that reveals an old photo of the family on the porch of Bill’s childhood home. The image “upset[s] her more than she’d expected” because Penny views it as “a warning about the danger of desire” (p. 228). How do Penny’s yearnings change as she settles into married life with Bill? Which of her longings do you think are the most dangerous? Do you agree with the sacrifices that Penny makes in order to realize her desires?

7. Rebecca’s analyst tells her, “We never get over it. . . . Having started out as children” (p. 171). What does she mean? Apply this statement to each of the Blair children. How have their childhood experiences shaped who they are as adults?

8. Were you surprised by Penny’s behavior at the Lawson recital? What prompts her to leave? Once the family is back home, “Bill saw that the children were defining the moment as a rescue operation rather than the act of capture it actually was” (p. 140). Do you think, like Bill, that Penny is being cornered or, like the children, that she’s being saved?

9. At Ryan’s birthday, James reacts very strongly to Penny’s assertion that Bill isn’t supportive of her work. Do you think that James is justified? Why do you think that James destroys Penny’s watercolor?

10. Penny believes she and James “ruin things” (p. 415). Do you agree with her? In what ways are they forces of destruction? How pronounced are the differences between Penny and James, particularly in the way that they view family obligations?

11. Describe the Barn. What prompts James to join it? How does being part of the Barn change James? Why do you think he is reluctant to tell his siblings about it?

12. What is the significance of the three capital Rs that Bill scratches into the concrete foundation of his shed? How does the presence of the carving bring Bill and Penny closer together? How does it comfort Robert?

13. Discuss Penny’s artwork. From the descriptions of her work and the reactions of others to it, do you think she’s a talented artist? The narrator says, “It was no wonder Penny was so protective of her art; she’d needed to protect it for most of her life” (p. 305). What has Penny needed to protect her artwork from? Why is creating art so important to Penny?


1. The Blair children all have strong and varied memories of growing up in their childhood home. Did reading their recollections remind you of your childhood home? Share your stories with your book club.

2. Discuss family structure with your book club—your families of origin and/or your current families. How do you think birth order and sibling relationships shape your behavior?

3. When Ann Packer’s debut novel, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, was published she won critical acclaim for her “brilliant ear for character” (The New York Times Book Review) and her “straightforward prose that carries a good deal of emotional weight” (The Boston Globe). Read The Dive from Clausen’s Pier with your book club and compare the two novels. Has Packer’s writing style changed since the release of her debut novel? If so, how?

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The Children's Crusade: A Novel 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
love2read123 More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed Ann Packer's fiction, and I was extremely excited to read her latest novel.  I'm sorry to report that I was deeply disappointed.  The plot is threadbare -- rather than propel my interest forward, I felt lost in the meandering among the various character's points of view -- and none of the characters were particularly compelling, except for Penny, the struggling mother, who was mostly absent from the narrative.  At times I had to put the book down and return to it (I'm not sure why), because I found the novel to be frustrating and, at point, unreadable.  The only aspect that was worth the "payoff" was a satisfactory conclusion -- though I felt it was almost to the point of "diminishing returns."  This was not the novel I expected to read, and it turned out to be "not my cup of tea."
pandemonium0 More than 1 year ago
This novel includes a realistic development of characters , including an interesting take on how each of us can interpret our roles differently depending upon many complex factors. The book reflects upon the roles of gender, birth order and individual personality traits on our views of happiness. The author is somewhat merciless on the character of the Mom, at the same time almost elevating the father figure to sainthood. Several chapters  reflect the idea that we all are neurotic and that normal living is almost impossible to achieve.  The story was interesting, but the ending seemed rushed and disappointing. Still, for a reader who enjoys reflective psychological inquiry into how we become who we are, it is a novel worth reading.
anonomas More than 1 year ago
Very boring at times, but had some interesting chapters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you can get past the first two chapters, you will find the story well written, engaging and thought provoking. I truly enjoyed the book and loved the ending!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A slow read, it took me weeks to get through. I only continued because I was waiting to get to the "extrodinary study in character and the examination of the legacy of early life on adult children". It never came. All I got were meandering, disconnected and hypmotizing ramblings (with a few overly detailed, awkward and unecessary sex scenes) all to say that a selfish, dissatisfied, irresponsible crazy mother will produce an angry, irresponsible adult son. Duh.
MahMah More than 1 year ago
... If so, I would strongly urge you to read this book, BEFORE, you begin the process. Author Packer's story, which is one of the very best I have read in a long, long time about the joys and agonies of belonging to FAMILY, is a five star winner for sure. The characters in this book are drawn with such insight and knowing that each one: The father, mother, three boys and one girl -- come across as being so totally REAL that I related to each one on a visceral basis, and maybe MORE so, to the youngest BOY child in the family! A pretty good trick when I consider that in real life I would be this boy's grandmother! Read this book even if you have no children and never plan to have any. It is so satisfying on so many levels -- in particular the HUMAN level!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel, which digs deep into family and the foundation it is built upon introduces us to the flawed but always entertaining Blair family. A wonderful read that will make you think long after the last page is turned. ~*~LEB~*~
juicedbooks More than 1 year ago
There is no whiny protagonist here, but instead a family of four siblings and two parents who struggle to come to terms with the fact that family is not always desired or destiny. Penny, the mother, abandons her family to live as an artist after feeling unfulfilled and overwhelmed as a mother of four. This leads to a reckoning within the lives of the four children as they grow older and fill in the gaps of why their family was never quite complete enough to satisfy her or themselves. The structure of the book is simple and easy to follow, beginning with the grandfather, traveling down to the father and mother, and through to the children in age order. This allows the book to get to the heart of the conflict, James, whose final chapter serves as a climax to the entire story. It's a great read for anyone who reads a little too much into their family dynamics, grew up in a big family, or is struggling to define family for themselves. The Blair family is so unique, yet familiar enough in their conflicts and struggles that they might as well be your own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Didn't want to put this book down. Didn't want it to end. Loved the character development . Would have given 5 stars, but felt the ending was hurried and not completely satisfying .
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. A good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm just waiting for some"R.&R."before I would purchase this story.Call me fugile,o.k., just a tightwad(: at 14.99 I believe it is,I would be more than happy to buy it if the reviews are as good as the overview. ~~~~Granny B.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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