- Will Sparrow's Road
Sold by his father to a cruel innkeeper for unlimited ale, twelve-year-old Will Sparrow has finally had enough abuse and takes to the roads of Elizabethan England to make his own fortune. Thinking himself a sharp young lad, with his taste for lying and thieving, Will is surprised to encounter tricksters far more savvy than he and ends up with an empty purse and belly after being had not once, but three times. He eventually falls in with a traveling caravan of "oddities and prodigies," but even here he is deceived: believing that the show's cat-whiskered girl and bad-tempered dwarf deserve their poor treatment, Will attempts to ingratiate himself with the show's ringleader only to discover that Master Tidball is as lazy and violent as the men Will has left behind. As usual, Cushman is adept at bringing the past to vivid life, with evocative details from daily Elizabethan life and authentic, often humorous dialogue ("Pah, boy, be not afeared of this impolite porker"). Will's experience as both a target of abuse and as a bystander to the sufferings of others brings a contemporary (but universal) twist to this historical tale, broadening its appeal; youngsters who have been lucky enough to avoid being bullied will recognize Will's initial response of staying silent to save his own skin, and they will similarly relate to his internal struggle when he finally decides to help the "oddities" escape their master. Cushman includes as extensive author's note on market fairs, traveling shows, and the economic climate of sixteenth-century England as well as a bibliography. Will's journey has considerable classroom potential as supplemental reading for an Elizabethan unit or as a springboard for discussions on inclusions and exclusions, both contemporary and historical.