cover image Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

Michael Morpurgo, Morpurgo. Harcourt Children's Books, $23 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201736-1

Following their Robin of Sherwood and Arthur, High King of Britain, Morpurgo and Foreman turn their talents to historical fiction about the Maid of Orl ans. Morpurgo frames his chronicle of Joan of Arc within a contemporary story about Eloise, a 17-year-old French girl who has set her heart on playing Joan in the annual tableaux in Orl ans, where Eloise's family has just moved. When Eloise narrowly loses a contest to portray Joan, she seeks the solace of the sparrow she has befriended down by the river. There a voice from on high (""from deep inside the light, deep inside the silence"") tells her the complete story of Joan of Arc, including Joan's lifelong companionship with a white sparrow (""He was her best friend on this earth""). Told in smooth, expansive chapters, the narrative skirts some of the more searching questions about Joan's voices and vocation (such as those raised in Diane Stanley's recent picture-book biography, Joan of Arc) and accepts Joan's religious visions at face value. Indeed, with the introductions of a supernatural narrator and of a sparrow that enjoys an almost mystical relationship with Joan, Morpurgo signals that his storytelling is premised on faith. Foreman, too, adopts only the look of realism. His deceptively sunny palette offsets the often brutal matter of the narrative, and his familiar, informal, representational style balances his allusions to religious imagery. If the work is not as provocative as Stanley's, its polish and panoramic scope will lure and hold readers. Ages 9-14. (Mar.) FYI: Also coming from Morpurgo and Foreman this month is Farm Boy, a contemporary story set in Devon and focusing on a storytelling grandfather and his grandson (Pavilion [Trafalgar, dist.], $16.95 paper 80p ages 7-10 ISBN 1-86205-192-5; Mar.).