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by Matthew Skelton
Publishing Information: Delacorte Press: New York, 2006
ISBN: 0385733801 / 0385903979 (Lib Bind) / 0739336444 (Audio)
Pages: 400 p.
Ages: 12 & Up
Having accompanied his mother and pesky younger sister to Oxford, Blake stumbles across an ancient, magical book that was secreted to England in 1453 to save it from evil forces. In the library of present-day Oxford University Blake encounters this blank book that seems to leap off the shelves into his hands. Gradually the empty book's story unfolds for his eyes only, a story that stretches back to an apprentice of the printer Gutenberg in 15th-Century Germany. As Blake struggles to understand the book's secrets, he is aided and pursued by adult scholars at the university as well as a mysterious stranger. Troubled by his parents' separation, and reluctantly accepting help of his younger sister, Blake follows clues to the book's cryptic origins and desperately struggles to keep its long-hidden secrets from someone who would use them for evil ends.
Blake Winters is bored. While his mother spends hours of research as a visiting scholar at Oxford University, Blake and his younger sister amuse themselves in the huge University library. As he absently drags his finger along a shelf of dusty old books, one of them grabs back and his hand, pricks his finger, and draws blood ... Wait! Books don't have a life of their own - or do they? The book seems to mold itself to the size of Blake's hand, but the pages are blank. Fascinated, Blake watches the pages slowly begin to reveal a spidery writing that only he can see - and the story they tell seems to be an endless riddle. Determined to unravel the riddle and solve the mystery of the book, Blake and his sister Duck follow clues deeper into the world of Oxford scholars, the old library, a dusty used book store, a mysterious homeless stranger and his dog - clues that take them all the way back to the dawn of the printed word on a journey that is threatening and almost fatal - but they won't stop until they have the answers.
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Books and Reading
Gutenberg, Johann (1400?-1468)
Awards & Reviews:
Borders Original Voices Award (Nominee), 2006
Kirkus Best Children's Books (Nominee), 2006
Gr. 6-9. This debut novel, when offered to publishers at the manuscript stage, spurred an impressive bidding war. Why the fuss? For one thing, it's partly set at Oxford University, the same backdrop Philip Pullman used in The Golden Compass (1996). For another, its focus on a coveted artifact evokes Dan Brown's adult blockbuster The Da Vinci Code (2003). Blake, an American adolescent visiting modern-day Oxford, stumbles upon Endymion Spring-- one portion of "the most legendary, sought-after book in the world." As Blake attempts to complete the fragment while evading cutthroat members of an antiquarian book society, flashbacks reveal the book's fifteenth-century connections to the original printing press, recounted by an apprentice of Gutenberg himself. Though the pulse-racing descent into Oxford's subterranean library stacks is thrilling, not every reader will respond to the novel's scholarly atmosphere, and subplots intended to flesh out Blake's character (mainly his angst over his parents' separation) seem stiff and forced. Once the buzz surrounding this heavily promoted fantasy subsides, look for it primarily in the hands of bibliophiles who enjoyed Cornelia Funke's Inkheart (2003) and Inkspell (2005) . -- Jennifer Mattson
Booklist, June 1, 2006, p64
This thriller takes precocious children whose lives are disrupted by their parents' separation, surrounds them with untrustworthy, professionally jealous and personally greedy academics and drops them into a mystery involving an ancient book. Said tome is made from a miraculous paper -- the remains of a mythical leafdragon -- and is indestructible. The result is a volume containing the secrets of eternal wisdom; it appears to be blank, but is continuously writing itself and reveals the contents only to those pure children it has chosen. The first, a young apprentice to Johann Gutenberg, is Endymion Spring, who carries the book to Oxford to keep it out of the hands of the unscrupulous Fust (Faust). Blake, a contemporary teen, finds Endymion's book hidden in plain sight on an Oxford library shelf. Characters' stories and settings alternate between medieval Germany and contemporary Oxford, and the atmosphere is steeped in cinematic imagery, especially the tenebrous world of the Bodleian Library's underground tunnels and book stacks. Allusions to legends and poetry mix with the appeal of a magical book that only answers questions in riddles. Wonderfully engaging, even addictive. (Fiction. 11-16)
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2006 (Starred Review)
An enchanted blank book-one that reveals its secrets, but "only for those with eyes to see them" lies at the center of Skelton's ambitious first novel, which unfolds through two alternating narratives. The first, set in the present, follows young Blake, whose mother is a visiting academic at Oxford. One day he runs his finger across the spines of some books in the Bodleian Library, and one volume "[strikes] him back." The book's title, Endymion Spring, begins to appear before his eyes, and he opens the cover only to find the contents blank -- save for a riddle-like poem. The second thread of the tale, set in 15th-century Germany, is narrated by Endymion Spring, a boy serving as apprentice to the great Gutenberg, who is hard at work on his printing press. Gutenberg, eager for money to fund his Bible-printing project, strikes a deal with the "ruthless" Fust, who travels with a locked chest, adorned with gruesome imagery. Its hidden treasure represents a mystery with ties to both Blake's blank book and to Eden. With it, Fust seeks to create a book that will contain "all the secrets of the universe." Skelton's fiction breathes excitement into real history, as he exploits the fact that Johann Fust, Gutenberg's real-life patron, has been identified with Faust (as explained to Blake by a professor and to readers in an endnote). Riddles galore, a great cliffhanger and a film deal with Warner Bros. should generate plenty of excitement for this literary thriller; book lovers in particular will savor its palpable whiff of musty shelves and dusty volumes. Ages 12-up. Gr 4-7: In 1452, a young printer's devil toils for his master, Herr Gutenberg, who is in the process of printing a Bible. On a suitably dark and cold night, sinister Johann Fust arrives at Gutenberg's shop with a mysterious wooden chest decorated with dragons and serpents' heads. In a parallel story set at Saint James College in Oxford in the present day, Blake, a professor's son, discovers a wordless book with the title Endymion Spring, which was the printer's devil's name. The present-day narrative and the story of Endymion Spring cleverly intertwine as Blake discovers that the book is the key to all of the world's knowledge. As Endymion lies hidden in Gutenberg's shop one night, Fust opens the wooden chest and, because of what Endymion learns, he is forced to flee. In an incredibly effective action scene, he eludes capture. Back in the present, Blake and his sister, Duck, find themselves pursued by a mysterious -- Person in Shadow -- and discover, as it leads them into the depths of the Bodleian Library, that Endymion Spring's book has a mind of its own. Even if the promise of the clearly intriguing premise is not quite fulfilled, this book is certain to reach an audience looking for a page-turner, and it just might motivate readers to explore the true facts behind the fiction. --Tim Wadham, Maricopa County Library District, Phoenix, AZ -- Tim Wadham
Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006, p159 (Starred Review)
School Library Journal, September 006, p218
Discussion Questions and Ideas:
- Compare the characters Blake and Endymion. How are they alike? How are they different? Can you imagine Blake living in the 15th century -- or Endymion living in today's world? Are there similar ways in which they each react to the world around them? Do you think they would be friends if they lived in the same time?
- Which of the adults at Oxford in the Ex Libris society reminds you of Johann Fust in Gutenberg's day? Which of them reminds you of Gutenberg? Which one did you suspect was after Endymion Spring's book? Why do people want it so badly?
- Endymion works as an apprentice, sometimes referred to as a "printer's devil." Some historians believe this term originated because people of the Middle Ages thought that early printing was a magical process, perhaps associated with witchcraft. Why did they develop that belief? What factors of that time might have contributed to that belief?
- Compare the way people felt about Gutenberg's printing process to the way Giles Bentley feels about digitalization. What are the differences and similarities in these two processes? Why would people today object to books being digitalized?
- Consider the saying that Blake finds in a manuscript in the library's display case: "Wisdom speaks with a silent tongue." What does that mean to you? Why do the adults think the figure is an old man when Blake is sure it is a boy? What ways in this story are children wiser than adults -- in both time periods? Can you think of instances in your own life when you thought that children were wiser than the adults around them?
- "Bring only the Insight the Inside brings" -- these words appear in the magical book to both Endymion in the 15th century and Blake in the 21 st century. Jolyon tells Blake that his father's imagination was "blessed with an insight I have rarely seen." What does the word insight mean to you? Why are Endymion and Blake the only ones able to read the book's writing?
- Look up information about the Faust legend that Blake's mother is studying. What is the significance of this research in understanding the magical properties of the Endymion Spring book? What is the significance of the name of the library cat -- Mephistopheles? Do you believe that Johann Fust could, indeed, have been the original Faust?
- Discuss the relationship between Blake and Duck. How does Duck assist Blake in his quest? Would he be able to unravel the entire mystery without her? Who is braver -- Blake or Duck?
- Who is Psalmanazar? Why doesn't he speak to the children when they first meet him? What part does he play in helping Blake solve the mystery of the book? Why doesn't he meet with the others in the Ex Libris society?
- In Chapter 15, Blake says, "Sometimes it's harder to know the question than to find an answer." What does he mean when he says that? What questions does he need to know as the story unfolds? What questions are hardest to know? Can you think of a time in your own life when you couldn't find an answer because you didn't know the right question to ask?
Endymion Spring has many rich curriculum tie-ins. Present your class with the activities below as a starting point.
Look up information about Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer. Write a short skit in which you act out the business dealings between Gutenberg and Fust. What part does Peter play in this scenario? Use the Internet to research the document that describes this dispute: the Helmasperger's Notarial Instrument of 6 November 1455. Begin with www.gutenbergdigital.de/gudi/start.htm
Research the meaning of being an apprentice in the 15th century. What would working in Gutenberg's shop mean to an orphan like Endymion Spring? What sort of clothes did a medieval apprentice wear? How long would he have to serve in order to learn a trade?
Locate Mainz on a map of medieval Europe: historymedren.about.com/library/atlas/natmapce1460.htm. Find a route that Fust and Peter might have traveled from Paris to Mainz. Plot a route for Endymion Spring to travel from Mainz to Oxford (north of London) on this map. What modes of transportation would he be able to use in that time?
Create your own illuminated manuscript. Decide on a text that you feel is important to you. Copy out the text and create an artistic way to display the initial letter, decorate the borders, and enhance the meaning of your document. What decisions do you need to make as you proceed with your work?
Since the 15th century, book lovers have created special nameplates to identify their books. The bookplate, or ex libris, is a miniature art form developed to identify the owner of a book in a special way. Research this art in older and more modern formats at these Web sites and others you can find: www.bookplate.org and www.myhomelibrary.org/bookplates.html. Create your own bookplate design demonstrating who you are and why your books are important to you.
Write the story of Endymion Spring's life from Gutenberg's point of view. Imagine how the inventor felt about the boy and why he brought him into his shop as an apprentice. What was it like for Gutenberg to be developing a whole new way of producing books? Create a journal kept by Gutenberg as he works on his printing press.
Endymion Spring The official Web site of Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton - www.endymionspringthebook.com
The British Library: Gutenberg Bible At this site, you can view actual pages from two of the Gutenberg Bibles that are in the collection of the national Library of Britain - www.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/homepage.html
The Digital Revolution: Changing Oxford Read a lecture on the history of the book by an Oxford librarian with accompanying pictures from his PowerPoint display that show many types of early manuscripts and early printed books - www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/librarian/manchesterpres/manchesterpres.htm
University of Oxford - This Web site of Oxford University includes maps of the town and colleges and descriptions of the university's history and courses of study. www.ox.ac.uk
Endymion Spring Readers Guide - http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/teachers_guides/9780385733809.pdf
Guttenberg Digital Project - www.gutenbergdigital.de/gudi/start.htm
Christina Rossetti : Goblin Market, she repeated. It's one of my favorite poems, written by Christina Rossetti in 1862. It's about two sisters who are tempted to eat exotic fruit offered them by little goblin greengrocers. 'Come buy, come buy,' they sing to the girls, one of whom succumbs and then languishes from hunger. The language is wonderful. Lurid and alluring." - http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/crossetti/crov.html
Bookplate or ex libris sites:
- The American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers - Since the fifteenth century, distinguished artists and their patrons have given serious attention to this art form. It represents a miniature art developed to adorn books and a convenient, individualized way for the book's owner to be identified. The bookplate, or ex libris, is a label placed on the inside of the front cover of a book. www.bookplate.org
- My home library has bookplates for all ages - some in color, some black and white - freely downloadable from this terrific site. www.myhomelibrary.org/bookplates.html
Artlex Art Dictionary has history of bookplates with annotated examples. http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/b/bookplate.html
The Art of the Ex Libris is edited by J. V. de Braganza of Portugal and J. Stewart LeForte of Canada. It offers a history, a Web ring, news of competitions, etc. http://jvarnoso.com/exlibris/index.htm
- The Bookplate Registry is a database of more than 1,000 bookplates, presented by the Department of Special Collections, U of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN. http://www.rarebooks.nd.edu/digital/bookplates/
- The Phillipe Masson Ex Libris Collection . Although he was only 32 years old when he died in 1944, Phillipe Masson managed to accumulate a collection of over 4500 bookplates. The collection was acquired by Montreal's McGill University in 1972, and McGill has made it available online. This database is awkward to browse, because you can see only what you've put in keywords for. Searching for works by year (c. 1900-1943) works well though. http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/bookplates/
- The Cleveland Museum of Art has a collection of fourteen bookplates by Nathaniel Hurd, American, 1730-1778. http://www.clevelandart.org/Explore/artist.asp?recordkeywordID=1030&recNo=4
- "Bookplates As Collectibles" is an article by Amelia MacSwiggan orginally published in 1957. http://www.oldandsold.com/articles/article321.shtml
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Other Books by the Author:
This is the author's first book
About the Author:
Matthew Skelton was born in England and grew up in Canada. He has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Oxford University. Endymion Spring is his debut novel. He lives in the U.K. Like the boy in the book, Blake, Matthew Skelton grew up on both sides of the Atlantic, but found himself strangely drawn toward Oxford. An expert on books and printing, he has spent years searching the libraries of Europe, where a dusty old volume first set him on the trail of Endymion Spring. This is his debut novel.