THE PATRON THIEF OF BREAD
Fished from the river as an infant and raised by a roving band of street urchins who call themselves the Crowns, eight-year-old Duck keeps her head down and her mouth shut. It’s a rollicking life, always thieving, always on the run—until the ragtag Crowns infiltrate an abandoned cathedral in the city of Odierne and decide to set down roots. It’s all part of the bold new plan hatched by the Crowns’ fearless leader, Gnat: one of their very own will pose as an apprentice to the local baker, relieving Master Griselde of bread and coin to fill the bellies and line the pockets of all the Crowns.
Fished from the river as an infant and raised by a roving band of street urchins who call themselves the Crowns, eight-year-old Duck keeps her head down and her mouth shut. It’s a rollicking life, always thieving, always on the run—until the ragtag Crowns infiltrate an abandoned cathedral in the city of Odierne and decide to set down roots. It’s all part of the bold new plan hatched by the Crowns’ fearless leader, Gnat: one of their very own will pose as an apprentice to the local baker, relieving Master Griselde of bread and coin to fill the bellies and line the pockets of all the Crowns. But no sooner is Duck apprenticed to the kindly Griselde than Duck’s allegiances start to blur. Who is she really—a Crown or an apprentice baker? And who does she want to be? Meanwhile, high above the streets of Odierne, on the roof of the unfinished cathedral, an old and ugly gargoyle grows weary of waiting to fulfill his own destiny—to watch and protect. Told in alternating viewpoints, this exquisite novel evokes a timeless tale of love, self-discovery, and what it means to be rescued.
A beautifully crafted middle-grade novel spiced with magic—and gargoyles!—from the acclaimed author of Hour of the Bees and Race to the Bottom of the Sea.
- Candlewick Press
- May 2022
- 448 Pages
“Brimming with intriguing medieval-era details, Eagar’s (The Bigfoot Files) tale of streets and skies boasts vividly wrought characters (protagonists are cued as white) and a satisfying, carefully paced narrative following one child’s gradual transition from street urchin to beloved community member.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Vivid descriptions and gentle introspection easily transport readers into the teeming medieval world.” ––Booklist (starred review)
“Ambitious, absorbing, and, at times, mouthwatering.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“The plot, borne along by Eagar’s flawless, compelling voice, swells like a loaf of bread proofing: slowly, but developing delicious flavor as it grows. . . . the story comes to a hopeful conclusion that is balanced by wry, but not bitter, complexity.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)
1. Most of the book is told in the third person, but every few chapters there is a chapter narrated by a gargoyle. How does the gargoyle’s point of view add to the story?
2. It is hard for us to imagine building something that takes generations to complete, but that is the way it was with medieval cathedrals. However, the one in this book hasn’t been worked on for many decades and is falling into ruin. The author tells us at the end of the book why the work was stopped, but did you have a theory before that?
3. Gnat, the leader of the Crowns, is an interesting person. He is very smart, he keeps the group fed and sheltered, and his schemes always succeed, but he doesn’t seem to like Duck and treats her differently than he does the other Crowns. Why do you suppose this is?
4. The book says on page 40, “Maybe other orphans would have given themselves over to the church, or else found farms and manors to work for—a lifetime of dedication to a friar or a lord in exchange for room and board.” The Crowns instead prefer the streets and freedom. If you had had to choose, which one would you have picked?
5. After Duck steals bread from Master Griselde and each of the Crowns gets a penny to spend at the fair, “Duck couldn’t remember a time when she’d had a penny of her own—but now that she’d experienced it, she wasn’t sure she cared for it” (page 62). Why does she behave such a negative feeling about having money? Have you ever felt money or something else you possess to be a burden?
6. If you were in Duck’s situation, and had money in your pocket, what would you have bought at the fair?
7. Duck is totally enchanted with the scent of rosemary—something mentioned often in the book. Are there scents that you love? Do you associate them with a particular place or person?
8. When Gnat makes Duck apply to be an apprentice with Master Griselde, the baker says, “No one wants to be a baker’s apprentice. . . . The other guilds fill up with applicants first—painters, metalsmiths, glassmakers. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Everything else was taken” (page 93). Why do you think baking is looked down upon? What trade would you have chosen if you were to be an apprentice at that time?
9. Duck is a whiz at learning to read and write under the tutelage of Master Frobertus, and both he and Master Griselde praise her repeatedly. Master Griselde’s praise “felt like sunshine, and she could not endure it” (page 162). Explain why this is.
10. When Duck finds out about the bargain that Gnat has made with the Red Swords, she must choose between her two families: the Crowns and Master Griselde. Which one would you have picked, and why?
11. Duck thinks about how chance determined her life. If Ash had not found her in the river when she was a baby, she might have floated down to the bakery and have been found by Master Griselde instead. Does Duck owe the Crowns total loyalty because they were theb ones who found her and took care of her?
12. When the bakery is on fire and Duck is determined to save Master Griselde, she and Griselde jump into the river below—the second time that Duck has landed in the river to save her life. How were these two times similar? How were they different?
13. After the gargoyle saves Duck from drowning, he watches the cathedral tumble to pieces. He says, “Think of darkness. Think of how darkness would sound if it had a voice” (page 373). That is how his soul sounds. How would you describe this darkness with a voice?
14. Gnat runs away when he sees his mother at the abbey. Do you think he will ever return?
15. The book says, at the end, “No one got to choose where they came from. But everyone got to decide where they were going” (page 438). How much choice do you think we have in our future?
All the gargoyles on the unfinished cathedral in the dusty market district of Odierne face east except one. Which means that all the gargoyles are insufferable early risers who begin their gossiping the moment sunshine hits their stone faces. Except one.
“Did you hear?” says one of the east-side gargoyles. “The tanner’s wife caught him buying a pint for that saucy new laundress!”
The rest of them chortle. “Well, which would you choose? One smells like fresh linens, and the other one stinks like the entrails of a boar.”
Only one gargoyle on the cathedral roof faces west, thereby avoiding the morning departure of the pigeons from their roosts, which means there is only one gargoyle who does not get coated in bird grime. Only one gargoyle who does not have to wait for the rain to wash the smelly splatters from his horns.
And that gargoyle, in faith, is me. “Serves you right, you noisy scummers!” I hoot the minute I hear the slap-slap of white pigeon poop hitting the heads of the east-side gargoyles. “One of these days, you’ll get a special delivery right in the chops—that’ll teach you to talk so much!”
“Bite your tongue, ugly!” the east-side gargoyles screech back at me. “No one likes you!”
I chuckle to myself. Always to myself. Their words roll off my back like water.
There are five of them, of uniform size and shape except for their monstrous heads, which are chiseled to look like various beasts from God’s green earth.
They have a decent view of Odierne’s best streets, the vendors, our city’s front gates, the count’s manor. My ledge overlooks the Sarluire, a river of little color that winds between Odierne and an expanse of barley fields beyond. The water carries the city’s refuse, which tends to bunch at the nearby canal bridge. After ninety years of this view, I weary of it.
I weary of the gleam of the Sarluire at high noon, angled right into my eyes.
For ninety years, I have been blinded by that river.
For ninety years, I have had to listen to those east-side ninnies speaking about things I cannot see, their voices so loud I cannot hear anything else.
They were made by a different sculptor. Perhaps that is why it is so easy to argue with them. Or perhaps it is because there is little else to do up here except spin new ways to insult each other, new cruelties to shout across the roof like sermons.
Every day is the same when you are waiting. Tomorrow we will call each other guileless toads, wart-faced nanny goats, great horned devils. I will growl for quiet; they will refuse me my request. And above, the sun will burn a trail across the sky, and the moon will rise vapors from the sea. Time marches on.
They call me ugly—but we are gargoyles. We are all ugly. And ugly has never once stopped the birds. They roost in the eaves, in the bell-less belfries, safe from weather and wind. And when there is no more room in the hollow places of our unfinished frame, they try to roost on top of my head. Every time one of these feathered rodents steers too close, I bite at them, hard as I can.
“Fly south forever!” I shout. “Get plucked!”
At night, when the birds think I am snoozing, they bring their sticks and leaves and pieces of straw to my mouth, hoping to construct a nest before morning. But I snap my jaws shut, aiming to squash them, and end up with dirty feathers between my teeth.
“I hope someone roasts you with fennel and rotten potatoes!” I call as they flap into the darkness. It’s a good thing I do not sleep, or else they would make a birdbath out of me.
The pigeons are enough of a plague, and my fellow gargoyles make me wish I could chip my ears right off my head, but they are nothing compared to the abbey next door.
The Glorious Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, it is called, and its sisters are a bunch of white-cloaked old hedge witches. After their morning prayers, which drone on and on, they stand in their garden and blend together in chant, as if each of their voices is a string and they must musick them into a benedictory banner that hangs above Odierne for all the town to hear.
It makes me sick. It makes me wish for a working spout so I could spit water and pretend to be throwing up whenever they start their singing.
“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,” they sing.
“Praise butts, from where all droppings flow!” I sing back, as loud and triumphant as I can.
“Grow up!” the east-side gargoyles scold. “You’re revolting.”
So revolting, I have alternate verses for every hymn in the Glorious Congregation’s repertoire: “All Glory, Farts, and Honor,” “Sing to Him in Constipation,” “Of the Fathers Doves Were Smotten.”
I do not think God minds. I like to think He is on my side.
After all, God made the silence to be enjoyed.