The Book of Boy
A marvelous quest for readers of all ages—and now a Newbery Honor Winner!
"A treat from start to finish." Wall Street Journal
"A sheer pleasure to read." School Library Journal
★ Kirkus starred review
★ Booklist starred review
★Horn Book starred review
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2019 Young Quills Award, Historical Association, UK >
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Questions about The Book of Boy
First things first: where did this story come from?
I’ve been fascinated by pilgrimage for some time. I’m not a spiritual person, but I love the concept of combining traveling and trekking with good-deeding [not a word]. I spent two years researching a non-fiction book on pilgrimage. When that didn’t pan out, I went back to my notes and realized I’d learned quite a bit about relic theft. Hmm, a boy apprenticed to a relic thief . . . There it was.
What sort of research did The Book of Boy require? Have you seen relics like the ones described in the book?
I had to travel to Paris and Avignon and Rome . . . It was all really quite wonderful. I’ve seen a lot of relics, though mostly in museums, not churches — many relics have been stolen, or their containers stolen, or the saints themselves forgotten. That said, the cathedral in Arles, France, has an extraordinary room of relics. San Maria in Cosmedin in Rome displays the skull of Saint Valentine. Chartres Cathedral in France exhibits the veil of the Virgin Mary. So, yes, relics still very much exist.
The Book of Boy features two extraordinary characters. How did you come up with Boy and Secundus?
I love them both so much! It’s funny, but “good” characters are much harder to write than sassy devilish ones. You don’t want the character to end up priggish, or gullible. So that was tricky, but Boy saw me through. Secundus was easier: a crotchety, self-absorbed man who slowly develops a bond with his ward. The challenge was in the timing of the bond: it couldn’t be too quick or too pat.
How would you categorize The Book of Boy? Adventure? Historic fiction? Fantasy?
All of the above! And horror, too — why not? But no romance. My daughter is disgusted that there’s no romance. It’s hard to explain that romance isn't really Boy’s thing . . .
Was it difficult to write about religion? You don’t want to be sacrilegious, but you also don’t want to preach.
I know readers, young and old, who care intensely about their faith, and others who care intensely that faith is not imposed on them. But how can one discuss medieval Europe without Christianity? It's like discussing football without mentioning the score. The score is kind of the point. Medieval Christianity is vastly different from the Christianity that people know (even if they don’t practice it) today. I resolved this, I hope, by presenting religion through Boy’s eyes. He views the Church with such enthusiasm and optimism that we end up taking it in stride.
Where did the idea of talking animals come from? How did you develop their voices? Do you have a favorite?
Boy from the very beginning spoke to the animals around him. That’s just who he is. I had such fun pondering how a dog would speak, how a pack of dogs would speak, a goose, a horse . . . I’d like to think I stayed true to the animals’ natures. I certainly tried. Interestingly, the scenes with the hounds, with the starlings, with the mastiff — those battles were created (quite late in the process) because my agent and I were concerned that Boy seemed too helpless. How could a small, unarmed, sweet-tempered boy defend himself? He doesn’t have any skills . . . Oh wait. He does. He has superpowers.
Questions for readers
• At the beginning of The Book of Boy, Boy views himself as a monster. What did that term mean to you at the time? How did this evolve?
• In Chapter Two, Boy states that Secundus already was “transforming me as a rotten apple infects its neighbors.” What are some of the ways that Secundus “infects” Boy? How Boy infects Secundus?
• The Book of Boy takes place in the year 1350. How does the author convey a medieval setting?
• Describe the female characters in The Book of Boy. How do they fit into the story?
• What does The Book of Boy teach us about religion? About the Middle Ages?
• What will happen next?
More great stuff on The Book of Boy! Book recommendations, illustrations . . .