The Book of Boy

A marvelous quest for readers of all ages!

Boy has always been relegated to the outskirts of his village. With a deformed back, a mysterious past, and a tendency to talk to animals, he is often bullied . . . until the arrival  of a shadowy pilgrim named Secundus. Impressed with Boy’s climbing skills, Secundus engages him as his servant, drawing him into a suspenseful expedition to gather the seven precious relics of Saint Peter.

Boy quickly realizes that this journey is not innocent — Secundus is a thief. But Boy is determined to continue, for what if Saint Peter can heal his back, and make him a normal boy?

“Blend epic adventure with gothic good and evil, and add a dash of sly wit for a tale that keeps readers turning the page.”

  1. -Kirkus (starred review)

“A vivid, not-to-be-missed story.”

  1. -Booklist (starred review)

More great stuff on The Book of Boy! Book recommendations, bibliography, a chat about the book’s amazing illustrations . . . >>

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Questions about The Book of Boy

First things first: where did this story come from? How did you think up a medieval adventure about relic theft and pilgrims?

I’ve been fascinated by pilgrimage for some time. I’m not a religious person, I’m not even a spiritual person, but I love the idea that you can combine traveling and exercise and even eating with good-deeding (not a real word). I spent two years researching a an adult non-fiction book on pilgrimage. When that didn’t pan out, I went back to my notes to salvage something, and realized I’d learned quite a bit about relic theft. Hmm, a children’s book about a boy apprenticed to a relic thief . . . There it was.

What sort of research did The Book of Boy require? Did you visit these places? Have you seen relics like the ones described in the book?

Yes, I had to travel to Paris and Avignon and Rome . . . It was all really quite wonderful. And the food! I’ve seen a lot of relics, though mostly in museums, not churches. It’s been six centuries, and many relics have been stolen, or their containers stolen, or the saints themselves forgotten. Some churches don’t like to display relics because of theft, or because relics don’t have as much meaning. That said, the cathedral in Arles, France, has an entire chapel 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 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! When I originally pictured this story, the boy character was spunky and even a little mouthy. So I tried writing that . . . but it didn’t work. 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 in many ways was much 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 that’s not really Boy’s thing . . .

Was it difficult to write so intensely about religion? You don’t want to be sacrilegious, but you also don’t want to preach.

In my own life I know readers, both 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 would be like trying to explain 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?

As I recall, Boy from the very beginning spoke to the animals around him. That’s just who he is. It took some time for the animals to respond — I needed to figure out that they could talk back. 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 that I stay true to the animals’ natures. I certainly tried.

Interestingly, the battle scenes with the hounds, with the birds, with the mastiff — they weren’t created until very late, because my agent and I were very 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 your view of his monstrousness 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? Does Boy infect Secundus? How?

The Book of Boy takes place in the year 1350 — the date is mentioned in Chapter Six. How else does the author convey this medieval setting?

• Describe the female characters in The Book of Boy. How do they fit into the story? Are they powerless? Why or why not?

• What does The Book of Boy teach us about religion? About life in the Middle Ages?

• What will happen next?

More great stuff on The Book of Boy! Book recommendations, bibliography, a chat about the book’s amazing illustrations . . . >>