THE SCARLET CROSS

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Summary ~ Reviews ~ Excerpt ~ Teachers’ Guide

  • Nominated for the 2009 Stellar Award

SUMMARY

The Fourth Book of the Crusades

Stephen closed his eyes and again, in his mind, the noise of battle rose around him. Then a voice cut through his imaginings. “Come here, Stephen,” it said.

It seems as if his wildest dreams have been answered. A poor shepherd boy in medieval France, Stephen has been commanded by the Lord Himself to raise up an army of children to accomplish by their faith alone what grown men have failed to do: restore Jerusalem to Christendom.

Encouraged by Father Martin, the village priest, Stephen runs away from his father’s house to start a new crusade. Mesmerized by his fervour, thousands of young people, priests, and even adults flock to follow him, but the march across France through drought-ravaged villages and opulent cities is a bitter journey. How will Stephen be able to care for so many? And how will they get to Jerusalem?

The prequel to ANGELINE, and based on a true episode in history, THE SCARLET CROSS is not just the tale of the Children’s Crusade, it is the story of one boy’s inner journey from poor shepherd to trusted leader.

HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2006 ISBN 0-00-639345-4

REVIEWS

The Muskokan, March 2007

“Ever since 9-11, Western democracies have grown increasingly conscious of the Islamic world. Recently the CBC began airing a sitcom called Little Mosque on the Prairie. Children’s books about kids in Afghanistan and Palestine enable readers to look at other faiths and cultures with less bias and greater humanity.

“It is through this lens that Karleen Bradford writes about the Crusades, a dark side of Christianity in Europe that lasted from 1096 until early in the 13th century. The Scarlet Cross is the fourth in a series of five historical novels for age twelve and up that tell the story of what happens when misguided religious zeal releases a frenzied fanaticism that destroys both rational thought and innate human kindness. Suicide bombings are a modern symptom of the same sickness.

“The earlier books present both the Christian and the Muslim sides of the wars. This one is about the so-called Children’s Crusade when, in the year 1212, a French shepherd boy called Stephen of Cloyes, led a ragtag army of children and youths across France to Marseilles from whence they expected to sail to the Holy Land and liberate Jerusalem from the Turkish Muslims. In the final volume, entitled Angeline, which was a 2005 Honour Book for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction, we meet the survivors of Stephen’s ill-fated adventure. Now in Egypt, they discover that 13th century Christians, Muslims and Jews are successfully creating a workable peace.

“Karleen Bradford’s skill in recreating events that happened 1000 years ago is proof of her mastery of her craft. Even more praiseworthy is the relevance of her theme to modern readers. Colorful, dramatic, full of action, pathos, tragedy and optimism, The Scarlet Cross is an important book. Already highly acclaimed by critics, teachers and students from all three faith traditions, it deserves a wide readership.”

Review by Maryleah Otto

CM: Canadian Review of Materials, September, 2006

“Karleen Bradford’s fifth novel about the Crusades is the prequel to her critically acclaimed young adult novel Angeline (See Vol XI No. 5, October 29, 2004) which was nominated for several Canadian young readers’ choice awards and has earned stellar reviews. The Scarlet Cross brings to life the story of Stephen of Cloyes, the French shepherd boy called by God to lead the Children’s Crusade in 1212. The Children’s Crusade ended in misery when children who had survived starvation, exhaustion, and illness walking across France were tricked into slave ships headed for Egypt.

“Stephen’s abusive father and drunken, pilfering brother have earned the scorn and distrust of the other Cloyes villagers, and Stephen begins to realize his lousy lot in life. In those days, the first Crusades had already failed, but the village priests still preached of the need to liberate Jerusalem. While daydreaming in the field one day, Stephen hears the voice of a stranger, a missionary come from God. He brings Stephen a letter that commands him to lead an army of children to Jerusalem to ‘restore Jerusalem to the true faith.’

“Stephen must confront and run from his family; earn the respect and trust of the Cloyes priest, other priests, and the king of France; and find the confidence to recruit others to his calling. Stephen’s doubts and fears are carefully described and balance the improbable (but historically accurate) situation. Stephen conquers his insecurities and develops his ability to preach, then leads thousands of children on a torturous journey across France. Bradford doesn’t gloss over hardships- supporting characters die along the way, and some adults show no mercy towards the children. Bradford also clearly illustrates Stephen’s blossoming egotism and his subsequent downfall, often reflected in the astute and acidic comments of Angeline, the story’s female lead.

“I read The Scarlet Cross before reading Angeline, however, and struggled with what seemed to be religious bias. In Angeline, Bradford deftly illustrates how crusading Catholics of the 11th century might have responded to being plopped into a Muslim world and highlights the religious tolerance of the Muslims and the Coptic Christians. In The Scarlet Cross, however, non-Christians are repeatedly referred to as “infidels” that must be forcibly ejected from the Holy City of Jerusalem, and this terminology made me wonder how Muslim and Jewish readers might respond to the book. I felt it set up an antagonistic relationship between the story’s characters and non-Christian readers, but, after reading Angeline, I see that Bradford is being true to her characters’ knowledge, beliefs, and vocabulary. The Scarlet Cross is a magnificent companion to Angeline and readers will also appreciate it as a stand-alone read.

“Bradford once again richly describes the protagonists’ characters and their growth through imagery and well-paced action, as opposed to plodding description. Stephen struggles with universal themes, such as faith despite enormous obstacles, love (both spiritual and romantic), egotism, class differences, and failure. Young adults will relate their own insecurities and concerns with Stephen’s and Angeline’s.

“Includes helpful maps, prologue, and historical note.”

Highly Recommended.

Review by Jennifer Caldwell, © the Manitoba Library Association

Quill & Quire, May 2006

“Karleen Bradford’s The Scarlet Cross, takes as its backdrop one of the great tragedies of the Middle Ages, the disastrous Children’s Crusade of 1212. ...Bradford wonderfully evokes the dirt, grimness, and poverty of medieval France, and gives readers a real sense of the power of the Catholic Church in Stephen’s world.”

Review by Jeffrey Canton

The Toronto Star, May 14, 2006

“Ontarian Karleen Bradford harks back to a conflict of the Middle Ages in her fourth work of historical fiction about the Crusades, The Scarlet Cross. This story depicts the ill-fated Children’s Crusade of 1212, a movement begun by Stephen of Cloyes, a shepherd boy who claimed that Christ himself had ordered him to gather the children of France to march on Jerusalem and take it from Muslim rule...She has produced a fast-paced, undemanding read...for a child who wants to know something of the Children’s Crusade, this makes a reasonable beginning.”

Review by Deirdre Baker

EXCERPT from THE SCARLET CROSS

When Stephen and Renard returned to the field where Father Martin waited, the rest of Stephen’s followers were straggling in. Father Martin’s face was purple with the heat, but he and some of the other priests and monks were going from group to group, sharing out the last sips of water. Stephen gave Father Martin the sack of bread and some of the waterskins.

“Where are the cart and donkey?” Father Martin asked.

“I traded them,” Stephen answered, and tried to ignore the priest’s look of surprise. Did Father Martin think the cart and beast were so important to him? Then, with flush of shame, he realized that the priest had every right to think so.

He looked around for Angeline, but she was nowhere to be seen. She had been disdainful of the luxury he had been so pleased to indulge in - she would approve of his trading it for food. The thought almost gave him pleasure enough to compensate for the loss, but he hoped the donkey’s new master would treat him well - he had grown fond of the beast in spite of its ill nature.

It was not until much later that Angeline walked into the camp however. She trudged along with her head down, seemingly oblivious to the small group of children that trailed her. This was not like her at all. Stephen stared at her. Her clothes were little more than rags by now and she was barefoot. She was dirtier than she had even been and she looked gaunt and ill. He called to her, but she seemed not to hear. Troubled, he made his way through the horde of people that were settling down and making their campsites for the night. The field was already overrun and trodden down by the hundreds of feet, and strewn with garbage. Scrawny, half - starved dogs ran here and there in between the campsites, scavenging for whatever pitiful scraps they could find. The encampment was eerily silent. No singing now, not even the usual cacophony of shouts, cries and curses. No one had the energy for it. Stephen stopped for a moment to share his waterskin with a small child who lay motionless beside an older girl. When he offered the skin to the girl she grabbed it and, before he could stop her, drained it dry. Stephen started to reprimand her, then stopped. He could not bring himself to chastise her.

He reached Angeline’s side and held out his hand, but she ignored it.

“What is the matter?” he asked.

Angeline looked back at him with hollow eyes that seemed far too big for her face. The incandescent light that had so mesmerized Stephen the first day he had seen her had gone out. Her eyes looked dead. And sad beyond belief.

“Yves and Marc died today,” she said. “They just lay down and died in each other’s arms. I could not bury them. The ground is too hard. I scratched at it with my spoon, but I could not make a hole big enough. I had to leave them there. All alone.”

She dropped to the ground. Stephen sank down beside her. He started to put an arm around her shoulders, to comfort her, then dropped it, unsure as to whether she would want him to do so.

“What can we do, Stephen?” Angeline asked.

Stephen hesitated for a long moment. How to answer her? How could he give her strength when he truly had none left himself?

“I know it is hard,” he said finally. “But we must go on.” He was stopped by the look on her face. “What else can we do?” he pleaded, almost desperately.

“That is all you can say?” Angeline demanded. She lifted her head and her eyes blazed for a moment. “Children are dying every day! Dominic, Yves, Marc...So many others...You must do something, Stephen. You have to do something!”

Stephen felt his heart twist with pain.

“I cannot provide food when there is none to be had!” he burst out. “I cannot make dry rivers fill with water!”

“You said this was God’s crusade,” Angeline insisted, her voice shrill. “You said the Lord would provide. You promised!”

“And you said you could endure whatever suffering we might face,” Stephen shot back.

“And so I can,” Angeline cried. “It is for the little ones that I grieve.”

“Pray for them then,” Stephen said. “That is all we can do. We must pray for them.”

“God can make a headless man walk...” Angeline spat out the words, “but he cannot feed His innocent children?”

“How dare you!” Stephen cried, torn beyond endurance. “How dare you question our Lord’s wisdom?”

Brave words, but he had to leap quickly to his feet and stride away before she could see the tears that brimmed in his eyes.