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Falcon in the Glass
Margaret K. McElderry Books
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Falcon in the Glass

A boy risks his life to save some very special children in this fantasy adventure, set amidst the rich backdrop of Renaissance Venice.

In Venice in 1497, the secrets of glassblowing are guarded jealously. Renzo, a twelve-year-old laborer in a glassworks, has just a few months to prepare for a test of his abilities, and no one to teach him. If he passes, he will qualify as a skilled glassblower. If he fails, he will be expelled from the glassworks.

Becoming a glassblower is his murdered father’s dying wish for him, and the means of supporting his mother and sister. But Renzo desperately needs another pair of hands to help him turn the glass as he practices at night.

One night he is disturbed by a bird—a small falcon—that seems to belong to a girl hiding in the glassworks. Soon Renzo learns about her and others like her—the bird people, who can communicate with birds and are condemned as witches. He tries to get her to help him and discovers that she comes with baggage: ten hungry bird-kenning children who desperately need his aid.

Caught between devotion to his family and his art and protecting a group of outcast children, Renzo struggles for a solution that will keep everyone safe in this atmospheric adventure.

A note from the author

The first bit of Falcon in the Glass came to me on an afternoon maybe twenty years ago, when I was nursing a cold. I turned on the TV, and there was Venice on the screen—a photo documentary. Honestly, it was just pictures and music, but that was enough:


Well, it wasn’t a throw-it-all-away-and-join-the-circus kind of obsession, but ever since that documentary I’ve been dying to explore Venice both in person and through story.

What is it about Venice? I think it’s partly that it’s so stunningly beautiful, and when you wander through those old streets and canals you can almost imagine that the 21st century has dropped away and you’re living in the Renaissance, (but with tourists). And it’s also partly that Venice is, you know, sinking, and you know it’s not going to be around forever. And I think this sort of connects on a deep level to the sinkingness of everything beautiful in life.

Wait! I mean, I don’t want to be maudlin but… Everything beautiful is temporary, yes? And that’s part of what makes it so precious. And Venice reminds me of this in a piercing way that has haunted me for years.

So, in between writing my other books, I began to read about Venice. One thing I discovered was that during the Renaissance the authorities in Venice imposed fines, banishment, or prison sentences on skilled glass artisans who took the secrets of their craft beyond the Venetian lagoon. According to some historians it was even worse than that: If a glassmaker left, professional assassins would seek him out, wherever he was, and kill him.


Another piece of the story drifted in to me years later, after I found an old copy of Edith Pargeter’s The Heaven Tree in an antique store. In the author’s note, Pargeter says that teaching a class on the nature of art got her to thinking about larger questions of what it is to be an artist, and that was the inspiration for these novels.

The word “art” makes me skittish. But I, too, am a teacher, and I, too, spend the bulk of my days thinking about, writing about, and in the act of attempting to create something original and harmonious. A story.

I began to muse about the negotiation between art-making and life. About the way that life can shoulder aside your plans to make art … but it’s life that gives you something to make art about. I imagined a boy—a glassmaker?—caught in the rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma between a life devoted to his art … and an act of compassion for some strangers who had become friends.

In the meantime, there was the delicious joy of getting to know Venice, now in person as well as through books. I spent hours wandering the narrow streets and canals; I trudged through dungeons; I watched glass being made. As I wrote, my bird children showed up as well—the children who, in some of my other books, can “ken” or communicate telepathically with birds.

I’m hoping that Falcon in the Glass, which lives in the borderland between historical fiction and fantasy, will evoke the magic I first sensed in Venice, where the edges between land and sea blur, and you can almost forget what century you’ve been born into. And I’m hoping that readers will recognize themselves in that place and, for a few hours, happily make it home.

Awards and Recognition

bullet OCTE Oregon Spirit Award honor book
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