Basket Girl on the Run

The Executioner’s Daughter, by Jane Hardstaff, (Egmont USA), 288 pages, release date 14 July, 2015, recommended for grades 3-7

I have mixed feelings about The Executioner’s Daughter, but I think those are largely a result of being fifty-plus years old and having definite ideas about how Tudor England should be portrayed. For younger readers (the publisher recommends grades 3 through 7), this book is going to be an exciting read.

Moss, the central character, lives with her father in the Tower of London. He’s the executioner, which makes her the “Basket Girl,” the one responsible for carrying decapitated heads back from the scaffold. Not surprisingly, she loathes this job, but her father insists that they can’t leave the Tower because he’s a criminal and will be executed himself unless he continues with his duties.

The book opens with the execution of Thomas More and continues on through the fall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour (information that probably mattered more to me than it would to younger readers). Moss is attuned to and distressed by the changing fortunes of those around her, particularly once she’s also given the job of delivering meals to the condemned.

Moss dreams of life in London and of traveling along the Thames, although she knows very little about either. When she finds a passage out of the Tower new adventures begin, for which she’s ill-prepared, but which she faces bravely. She befriends a river boy, Salter; learns a great deal about lives both much more wretched and much more elevated than her own; both flees and hunts the ominous “ragged man”; and learns that she may be destined to die at the hands of the Riverwitch once she reaches the age of twelve.

As I said, I think the readers this book is aimed at will find it un-put-downable, even if it doesn’t translate well to the adult market. Issues of justice, the lives of the poor and the royal, death, magic, and a girl fighting to define herself—these all make The Executioner’s Daughter a compelling read for older children.

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