Monday, October 3, 2016

THE INQUISITOR'S TALE Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz (Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 27, 2016)

What It's About:
1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne's loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. In a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Why I Loved It:
This is clever, fun, philosophical and highly entertaining. Adam Gidwitz (who wrote the highly popular Grimm trilogy) is steeped in medieval French lore, and there are surprises aplenty. The supernatural is not considered outlandish--there are indeed canine resurrections, farting dragons, a character who can foresee the future through visions akin to epilepsy, and an archangel. I loved all three of the children, a motley crew who band together to come to the rescue of each other--and whose goal is to prevent the mass burning of Talmud books in Paris. There's also a magnificent chase across the causeway to Mont-Saint-Michel. This would be a great classroom read-aloud for 5th grade and up.

I was fortunate to be able to ask Adam some questions about medieval France. He replied in the form of a fun quiz.

Six Things Fun, Fantastic, and Fabulous about [Medieval] France

How about we do this in the form of a quiz? Let’s go! (Note: if I’m going to visit your school, please don’t share this with your students. I will give them a form of this quiz in person! And it’llbe way funnier in person, I promise.)

QUESTION THE FIRST: In the Middle Ages, there were men called Inquisitors. What was their job? WAS IT...
a) to act as the detectives for the Pope and the Church
b) to find people who believed in God incorrectly and to punish them
c) to collect stories and write them down

ANSWER:  Inquisitors acted as detectives for the church, finding people who believed in God incorrectly and punishing them. Some wrote the stories of their investigations down. So, all of them.

QUESTION THE SECOND: When it got cold at night, where would peasants’ cows sleep?  WAS IT...
a) in the church 
b) in their owners’ beds 
c) underground

ANSWER When it got cold at night, the cows would often sleep in the peasants’ homes, and sometimes curled up in their beds of straw next to them! So yes, peasants slept with their cows. When it was cold and rainy during the day, they would often leave the cows in the church—because Mass was only on Sundays, and it was a nice, sturdy building. But at night, they wanted the cow’s body heat. Like the biggest, smelliest space-heater ever invented. 

QUESTION THE THIRD: The monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel had some serious natural defenses, which was good, because the monks who lived there were regularly attacked by Vikings, Normans, Bretons, and just about anyone with an army. Which of these defenses did it have?
a)surrounded by cliffs 
b)able to suddenly become an island 
c)surrounded by quicksand 

ANSWER: All of the above!!! It is built on cliffs, surrounded by quicksand, and when the tide comes in, it becomes an island!  This is absolutely true. I have walked in the bay, when the tide was out, and our expert guide took us to a bed of quicksand and taught us how to sink into it—and how to get out. WARNING: if you visit Mont Saint Michel, ONLY walk in the bay if you have an expert guide who does this every day of his or her life. Otherwise you may indeed drown and die. Consider yourself warned.  

QUESTION THE FOURTH: What was illegal for Jews in France in the High Middle Ages? WAS IT...
a) joining a trade guild, like the blacksmiths’ guild, the weavers’ guild, or the architects’, and learning a craft  
b) learning howto read 
c) studying with Christians 
d) reading the Talmud, which is the Jewish companion to the Bible 

ANSWER: Most Jewish children learned to read, which was otherwise very rare in the Middle Ages. Even girls often learned to read.  Jewish rabbis often studied with Christian monks, comparing translations of the Bible and teaching each other new methods of scholarship.  Jews were severely constrained, though, in how they were allowed to earn money. They couldn’t join the guilds, almost none of them owned land, and so they were forced into either rag-picking, trading, or money-lending. And in 1242, twenty-thousand volumes of Talmud were burned in the center of Paris. 

QUESTION THE FIFTH: If you were at a lord’s banquet in the High Middle Ages and you had to pee, where would you go? WAS IT...
a) to the bathroom, obviously 
b) to the outhouse 
c) in the closest corner 

ANSWER: If the lord was really fancy, he might have had an outhouse. But probably, you just would have gone in the corner.  

QUESTION THE LAST: In the Life of Saint Martha, written in the 1280s, what was the diabolical power of the dragon that Saint Martha killed?  WAS IT...
a) the ability to transform itself into a murderous chicken 
b) irresistible tickling ability 
c) farts so deadly that when they touched you, you burst into flames 

ANSWER: It was the farts. Really. All of this, and much more, appears in The Inquisitor’s Tale. Check it out!

About the author: 
Adam Gidwitz is the author of the critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling Grimm trilogy. He spent six years researching and writing The Inquisitor’s Tale, including a year living in Europe. Adam lives with his family in Brooklyn, NY. Find Adam online at or @AdamGidwitz.


  1. This book looks very interesting to me. I love stories set in medieval times. I am definitely going to be looking for this one. Thanks for the post.

  2. I think my daughter would enjoy this one. I love the question/answer style of this post! :)

  3. Ah, yes. Been hearing a lot about this. Maybe I'll have to move it higher on the list. Thanks.

  4. I used to love stories set in the Middle Ages, and have heard a lot of good things about this book. I'll definitely be reading it soon. Thanks for the great review.

  5. I was captivated by your opening and won over after reading the interview. Kids (and a few big kids like me) find the Middle Ages fascinating. I'll be tracking this one down for a future read.

  6. Ooh, I love the Middle Ages! This sounds like a lot of fun. I already have it waiting for me at the library--I can't wait to pick it up and dig in.

  7. Ah! I'm reviewing this later this month! LOVED this medieval tale. It was one of those I was sorry to finish reading because then it was over! So fascinating and yes, entertaining. Glad to hear you enjoyed it too. And what a fun quiz Adam created in answering your questions.


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