Title: Big John’s Secret
Author: Eleanore M. Jewett
Major Themes: Crusades, Feudalism, Jerusalem, Knights
Synopsis: John is a big boy, but he sure doesn’t know much about his past until a knight visiting the manor where John lives thinks he sees a resemblance to someone he used to know.
Big John’s Secret is one of the titles in Bethlehem Book’s Living History Library. We have enjoyed every one of these books that we’ve read. They do exactly what they advertise—bring history to life.
John is a peasant lad, growing up working on the estate of Sir Eustace in 1218. When he helps a visiting knight whose horse is injured, the knight sees a strong resemblance in John to someone he used to know and love, and requests that John enter his service. The only problem with this is that it requires John to leave Old Marm, the herbal woman who has raised him, the only family he has ever known. Who is John, anyway? All he knows about his past is that he was born in a noble family, which was wiped out when John was very young, leaving him the only known survivor. Is it possible that John’s father could have survived and might still be alive somewhere? How can John learn his true identity? Can he find his father—or is that an impossible quest? John finds himself going on a crusade to free Jerusalem from the infidels, and involved in some surprising adventures in Jerusalem and Egypt.
For the first part of this story, I was hearing complaints that, although the story was well-written it was too predictable. That complaint vanished, however, with some surprising twists in the story later on. One surprise was the appearance of a famous monk, who everyone has heard of—I’ll let you discover who it was for yourself.
WARNING: At various times throughout the book, it is mentioned that Old Marm is “dreaming true”. Apparently this was meant to be glimpses of the future. In chapter 8 John hears Old Marm calling for help, though he is a day’s ride on horseback away from her. Chapter 4 page 34, chapter 9 page 92, and chapter 15 page 152 all include the exclamation “Holy St. Christopher, and chapter 6 page 55 mentions someone exclaming, “Holy St. Swithin!” Chapter 4 page 38 mentions bashing in a deer’s head. Chapter 6 pages 55-56 show boys fighting, in chapter 9 Old Marm is tied to a stake to burn alive after being accused of witchcraft, and chapter 16 describes a battle between the Crusaders and the Moslems.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15