By Paul Fleischman
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders
Saturnalia by Paul Fleischman is one of the titles Zion received in the We the People: Created Equal bookshelf this spring. It's one we'll be reading this fall but it doesn't hurt to get a jump start on it now!
Saturnalia is an old festival that is at the heart the story. It was celebrated on the winter solstice (the longest day of winter) in recognition of the birth of the Roman god Saturn. The celebration included gift giving, feasting, and the chance to turn the world upside down, with masters becoming slaves and slaves becoming masters for the length of the celebration.
Our story takes place in Boston, in 1681, during the month of December. Mr. Baggot, the town's tithingman, is in charge of making sure that the townspeople under his watchful eye learn their Bible verses, stay awake during long church services, and have nothing to do with that pagan festival Saturnalia. Mr. Baggot has heard that Mr. Currie, the printer, and his household celebrate the festival but he hasn't been able to catch them at it. This year for sure, he will make every effort to do so, especially if it means he has a chance to see Mr. Currie's apprentice, William, caught in wrong doing. William is a young Indian boy, captured and taken as a slave during a raid on his tribe. He's found a home, and an education, with Mr. Currie who treats William like part of the family. This irritates Mr. Baggott who has his own personal reasons for hating William.
Mr. Speke is a wood carver who has been commissioned to carve a figurehead for a ship being built in the harbor. He roams the streets at night, unable to sleep for the sound of the screaming Indian girl that haunts his mind. Mr. Hogwood, the wigmaker, wants to court the widow Mrs. Phipp, not for love but for the wealth she has. Not very good at figuring out just what the lady wants, he relies on his servant Malcolm for dating advice. Malcolm, who has yet to meet a pretty face he doesn't like, is more than willing to give Mr. Hogwood advice, especially when he can use it to woo his own sweethearts.
All of the characters in Saturnalia are intertwined in ways both funny and sad. Behind them all though, is the idea of Saturnalia, that time when the characters of the world trade places. There are lots of masters and servants in Saturnalia, and despite the fact that they aren't supposed to celebrate the pagan holiday, the world has a way of turning itself upside down anyway for all of these characters! Look forward to hearing and learning more about Saturnalia this fall!