From School Library Journal
Grade 2-5-Jem, the shoemaker's son, is left in charge while his father makes a pilgrimage to the Holy City of Saint James to pray for his sick wife's recovery. In his absence, an extraordinary sequence of events transpires, involving three green children, a black knight, a white knight bearing three keys on his shield, and a mysterious package. After Jem survives the challenges of one terrifying night, a miracle occurs-his mother awakens desiring exactly what the package contains: "a square of very thin, soft, white bread." Told in formal prose and old-fashioned diction, this original fairy tale has enough elements of terror, suspense, and personal challenge to make it a gripping read. Ambrus's full-color illustrations, many of them full-page, reinforce its power. Unfortunately, the book ends inconclusively. Who were the green children? What relationship exists among Jem's strange visitors, his father's tale of fighting on the road, and his mother's cure? Some of the answers lie, apparently, in Biblical allegory. If symbols in the book are interpreted as keys to the kingdom and sacramental wafers, the resolution becomes clearer. However, the reading audience most interested in fairy tales will be unaware of the symbolism and frustrated by the book's conclusion. The Shoemaker's Boy may be a welcome addition to some Bible school classes, but independent readers will find it less than satisfying.Carolyn Noah, Central Mass. Regional Library System, Worcester, MA
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 2-4. Set in medieval Europe, this short chapter book concerns a boy named Jem, whose mother is gravely ill. When his father goes on a pilgrimage to pray for her recovery, young Jem takes his place as a shoemaker. Otherworldly visitors, including three wizened little men, a tall black knight, and a tall white knight, soon involve Jem in their mysterious affairs. The boy works hard and bravely keeps his word to the white knight, despite the black knight's threats. Soon Jem's mother miraculously recovers, and his father returns with his own tale of an encounter with the same two knights. Ambrus' dramatic ink drawings with watercolor washes help to ground the story firmly in the period, making this seem less a fairy tale than a historical story with magical elements that are true to the spirit of the period. For all its brevity, the story illustrates faith, faithfulness, and the struggle between good and evil. An unusual chapter book from an accomplished writer. Carolyn Phelan