Newbery-winning novelist Karen Cushman introduces her first male leading character in Will Sparrow’s Road, an engaging historical fiction adventure set in 1599, in Elizabethan England.

By all accounts, including his own, young Will Sparrow is a liar, a thief and a runaway. Will lives the only way he can—by his wits. It’s no wonder his motto has become: “I care for no one but myself . . . and nothing but my belly.”

Will’s father has sold him to an innkeeper in exchange for ale. But when the innkeeper threatens to sell Will off as a chimney sweep as a penalty for stealing a cold rabbit pie, Will knows the time has come to make his own way in the world. Along the way, he meets up with a troupe of “oddities and prodigies” who travel from fair to fair.

Cushman deftly weaves in Will’s adventures with fascinating details about Renaissance fairs of the time, which served as temporary markets for the sale of livestock, food and goods: “saddles and baskets and woolen cloth . . . candlesticks of pewter and brass, heaps of apple tarts, creamy cheeses, and plums.” Some young readers will recognize elements of the “Saturday markets” we have in cities and towns today, which combine farmers’ markets with hand-made goods and entertainment.

But readers will be less familiar with the odd members of Thomas Tidball’s band, which include a learned pig named Duchess, a wild cat-girl, a little man named Lancelot Fitzgeoffrey—and, eventually, Will himself. In this harsh world, where nothing is quite as it seems, Will must learn to sort friend from foe, and hope that, in the end, he can find a place to call home. Cushman’s lively account of his journey makes it a pleasure to follow along.

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