The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar is the story of eight-year-old Duck, who was found in a river as a baby and “adopted” by and cared for by a band of street urchins in Medieval France. The Crowns, a band of young thieves, are the only family Duck has known and even though Gnat, the group’s leader, is not especially fond of her, the group is her family, and they survive by stealing money and food from vendors in street fairs and town markets across their region. Orphaned children were often overlooked, abused, or ignored and thus had to fend for themselves, regardless of how young they were. However, the Crowns were skilled at stealing and thus a threat to other bands. They move from town to town as a way of avoiding bands of older orphans as well as punishment by a town justice once they become too visible in any particular place.
But once they return to Odierne, the city where Duck was found, they decide to set down roots. The city seems big enough for them to stay invisible to the authorities and they find places to hide and eventually live in a cathedral that was never finished and crumbling to ruins. Life seems good. The children find or poach food and they have a relatively safe place to live. They care for one another.
One of the places that is especially desirous to the Crowns is Griselde’s Bakery. They were able to steal from Griselde, who is going blind, and in need of an apprentice. Gnat decides that one of the Crowns could become Griselde’s apprentice, and to prove her loyalty, it is Duck’s turn to take such a chance. The other members of the group are not sure Duck is ready for such a responsibility—one that would include stealing both money and bread—since she is so young, but Gnat is determined. He convinces Griselde that Duck would make a good apprentice, and thus it’s set. Duck moves into the bakery and begins to learn not only how to make bread, but how to help the Crowns survive.
At the bakery Duck learns other lessons, too, about safety, warmth, trust, and love. As time passes, Duck begins to feel her loyalties divide. She cares for the Crowns—they are her family—but Griselde is part of a new type of family, and it becomes harder for Duck to steal from this new family. Gnat, however, notices this changing loyalty, and decides to take matters into his own hands. The results of Gnat’s interference produce not only a great tragedy, but new knowledge and conflicting opportunities for each one of the Crown’s members. What they decide to do will change their lives forever.
This is a wonderful narrative of loyalty, love, and how the love and beauty of the past is always with us. It is particularly delightful that the story includes the perspective of one of the cathedral’s gargoyles, marking both the beginning and ending of a well-told tale. The Patron Thief of Bread will make a wonderful addition to a Middle Ages text set for middle grade readers that includes The Inquisitor’s Tale (Gidwitz & Aly, 2016) and The Book of Boy (Murdock, 2018). –Recommended by Holly Johnson, Emeritus Professor, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
Title: The Patron Thief of Bread
Author: Lindsay Eagar
Publisher: Candlewick Press
PubDate: May 3, 2022