CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 8 . . . .December 8, 2006
1212: Year of the Journey.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2006.
288 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Children’s Crusade, 1212-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Betty Klassen.
"No. I will keep your secret. If you will keep mine."
He felt a rush of terror as he heard himself saying the words.
"What do you mean?"
"You are not the only one hiding your true self."
She eyed Abel curiously and for a few moments neither of them spoke.
Finally Abel broke the silence.
"Blanche, I am a Jew."
Abel felt great sobs of relief welling up in him. Finally the terrible burden of secrecy was lifted. For a few moments he could barely speak.
"How... how did you know?"
"I just knew. In Beziers, Jews and Christians live and work side by side. Nobody thinks anything of it. We are of different faiths, that's all. The man who hid me from the soldiers was a Jew. These people are ignorant; they don't know any better. Especially the young ones. Most of them have never even met a Jew. But I have to ask you the same question you asked me: What is a Jew doing on a crusade?"
1212: Year of the Journey introduces readers to three unique adolescents. Etienne, a young shepherd boy, has a vision that Saint Nicolas is asking him to lead a Crusade of the New Innocents who will be able to "conquer by the power of faith alone." As a devout Roman Catholic, he desires Pope Innocent III's blessing on this crusade and is devastated when he is told to abandon his plans.
Etienne is encouraged by Abel, a young Jewish boy who abandons his studies at university in Paris to accompany and defend Etienne. As they journey south on foot from Saint Denis (just north of Paris) to the port of Marseille, they are joined by many children including Blanche, a young girl whose family has been killed in the burning of Beziers in 1209. Blanche is a member of the Good Christians, a sect that has rebelled against the hypocritical leadership of Rome and is determined to live simple lives following the leadership of Jesus.
Each of these three characters has his/her own reasons for joining the crusade, and they have their own secrets and are led or forced to go in separate directions as the crusade meets its traitorous end: one in Baghdad, one in Cairo, one in France. The plot unfolds as we see events from each of their differing view points, a stylistic device which effectively pulls us into the story.
Kathleen McDonnell has written a well-researched historical novel which leads us to relive this medieval time in world history. To lead us back into this brutal era and to identify with her characters, we need to sing Latin hymns with Etienne, learn about the Good Christians or Cathars to understand Blanche's life, and identify with Able's search for Olam Ha-Ba (the world to come).
1212: Year of the Journey is an excellent novel to integrate ELA with social studies in grade 8 (Manitoba curriculum). Without the necessary background knowledge, many young readers may struggle to comprehend this text which would be regrettable because it offers readers the chance to explore the possibility of understanding and peace between world factions that to this day are still at war.
The maps at the back of the novel are very helpful; a glossary would be a good addition.
Betty Klassen is an instructor of English Language Arts and Social Studies at the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Education, in Winnipeg, MB.
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