cover image The Badger Knight

The Badger Knight

Kathryn Erskine. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-545-46442-0

In this picaresque-style historical novel, 13-year-old Adrian%E2%80%94small, asthmatic, and an albino%E2%80%94dreams of becoming a soldier and fighting the "pagan Scots" that threaten 1346 England. Perceived as weak and touched by the devil, the self-dubbed "Badger" is a skilled archer and has the rare ability to read and write. When his amiable friend Hugh joins the English army, Adrian runs away to follow him. Adrian's meandering journey has its dry moments: his adventures at a priory, friendship with a knight, and encounter with a Roman latrine can read like a checklist meant to supplement a middle-school history class. But National Book Award%E2%80%93winner Erskine (The Absolute Value of Mike) gives her unlikely warrior a lively voice, and the narrative cleverly upends Adrian's assumptions and prejudices, especially when it comes to foreigners and his long suffering cousin Bessie, whose kindness and determination he belittles as badly as others do him. The medieval-era mud and dung, as well as a scene of graphic battle violence, should captivate readers seeking total immersion in a distant, yet vibrantly imagined era. Ages 8%E2%80%9312. Agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (Aug.)