‘The Children’s Crusade’4/15/2015
“The Children’s Crusade” by Ann Packer is the compelling story of a family growing up in the 1970s in what will become Silicon Valley. In 1954, Bill Blair stumbled on an unimproved property and immediately began to imagine the home and family he would build there. A physician who had treated the wounded in Korea, he completed a second residency in pediatrics in order to focus on patients who would be more likely to recover. Quiet and reserved by nature, he met Penny — who was working in her uncle’s watch repair shop — courted and married her.
Fast forward a decade-and-a-half and the story finds Bill and Penny living with their four children in the house he built on the property where, in the meantime, they had enjoyed picnics and then weekends in a small cabin/shed. Bill is an adoring father whose mantra is “children need care.” Penny is a disengaged mother who wants to be left alone in the shed/studio doing her art. While their father is at work, the children are often unsupervised and seem to be raising each other. Bill and Penny clearly encourage each child’s unique qualities with James, the youngest, self-identified as “the problem.”
The book goes back and forth in time, spanning five decades. All the characters are believable, likeable in some way, and very human. There are no villains and no heroes. Was James a problem because of innate qualities or because four children were too much for his mother to handle? Did Penny choose to withdraw from her family, or did Bill drive her away? Leaving much to ponder, this would be an excellent choice for a book discussion group. CV
Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.