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Fall 2016 Publishers’ Preview: Five Questions for Adam Gidwitz

Publishers' Previews

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2016 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

Sponsored byPenguin Random House

Photo: Lauren Mancia

Photo: Lauren Mancia

Set in thirteenth-century France, Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, illustrated by Hatem Aly, follows three outlaw miracle-performing children — a peasant Christian girl, a Jewish boy, and a young brown-skinned monk whose mother was Muslim — as they elude their many enemies.

1. Is the riff on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales intentional?

AG: The book is chock-full of medieval references — including to The Canterbury Tales. But the sources go far beyond Chaucer, from The Golden Legend, a collection of saints’ lives (my source for the dragon of the deadly farts) to the diary of a real thirteenth-century inquisitor (the source for the holy dog).

2. Were you also inspired by any classic children’s books? (I’m seeing shades of Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three and even The Wizard of Oz.)

AG: Whereas the medieval references are entirely intentional, references to other children’s books aren’t. But I once wrote a letter to John le Carré, and his letter back said, “As a fellow writer, you know that we invent everything we write, even if someone has done it before.”

gidwitz_inquisitors-tale3. The revelation of the identity of the narrator is quite a twist. Was that always the narrator you had in mind?

AG: Six years ago, when I started imagining this book, I came up with the narrator and that twist. But I didn’t think I could pull it off, and I worked on a number of drafts using an omniscient, third-person narrator. Only in the year before publication did I decide to take the risk and put the story back into his hands.

4. You balance the adventure and humor with the larger themes such as religious tolerance so well. How did you find the right mix?

AG: I was a teacher for eight years, and my philosophy in the classroom was “serious fun.” Kids want to be challenged to grow, but they also want to laugh and be scared and grossed out. They are hungry for the full panoply of life. That’s what I’ve tried to give them.

5. Religion is one of the last taboos of children’s literature. What made you take it on?

AG: My wife’s specialty is medieval Christianity; together we have been building a Jewish home. We live in a world where religion is often used to justify hatred and violence. Religion today, just as it was in 1242, is full of wonders and horrors. I believe children deserve to be exposed to both. They can handle it. As long as it’s served with a healthy helping of farting dragons.

Sponsored byPenguin Random House

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