Reading Group Guide


  1. Explain the significance of the title of the book. What is the “children’s crusade”? Did your interpretation of the title change as you read?
  2. One of Rebecca’s friends tells her “Your dad is like a mom.” (p. 35) Discuss Bill and Penny’s parenting styles. What did you think of Penny as a mother?
  3. Discuss the structure of The Children’s Crusade. What is the effect of allowing each of the Blair children to narrate parts of the story? Packer intersperses the chapters from the children’s points of view with chapters where events are recounted in the third person. Why do you think she chose to do so?
  4. At the outset of The Children’s Crusade all four of the Blair children were “united in our desire” to keep their childhood home, “but we had our separate rationalizations.” (p. 160) Why are the children reluctant to sell the house? Do these rationalizations give you any insight into their personalities?
  5. When Ryan and Sierra become romantically involved, the narrator tells the reader, “Robert had had a girlfriend for almost three months, but until today [Rebecca] hadn’t truly believed anyone in her family would ever love someone outside it.” (p. 254) What does Ryan’s relationship with Sierra make Rebecca understand? Discuss the romantic relationships of the Blair children. How does their parents’ marriage influence those relationships?
  6. During a Thanksgiving visit to Penny’s parents, the children put together a jigsaw puzzle that reveals an old photo of the family on the porch of Bill’s childhood home. The image “upset her more than she’d expected” because Penny views it as “a warning about the danger of desire.” (p. 228) How do Penny’s yearnings change as she settles into married life with Bill? Which of her longings do you think are the most dangerous? Do you agree with the sacrifices that Penny makes in order to realize her desires?
  7. Rebecca’s analyst tells her “We never get over it…. Having started out as children.” (p. 171) What does she mean? Apply this statement to each of the Blair children. How have their childhood experiences shaped who they are as adults?
  8. Were you surprised by Penny’s behavior at the Lawson recital? What prompts her to leave? Once the family is back home, “Bill saw that the children were defining the moment as a rescue operation rather than the act of capture it actually was.” (p. 140) Do you think, like Bill, that Penny is being cornered or, like the children, that she’s being saved?
  9. At Ryan’s birthday, James reacts very strongly to Penny’s assertion that Bill isn’t supportive of her work. Do you think that James is justified? Why do you think that James destroys Penny’s watercolor?
  10. Penny believes she and James “ruin things.” (p. 415) Do you agree with her? In what ways are they forces of destruction? How pronounced are the differences between Penny and James, particularly in the way that they view family obligations?
  11. Describe The Barn. What prompts James to join it? How does being part of The Barn change James? Why do you think he is reluctant to tell his siblings about it?
  12. What is the significance of the three capital “R”s that Bill scratches into the concrete foundation of his shed? How does the presence of the carving bring Bill and Penny closer together? How does it comfort Robert?
  13. Discuss Penny’s artwork. From the descriptions of her work and the reactions of others to it, do you think she’s a talented artist? The narrator says, “It was no wonder Penny was so protective of her art; she’d needed to protect it for most of her life.” (p. 305) What has Penny needed to protect her artwork from? Why is creating art so important to Penny?


  1. The Blair children all have strong and varied memories of growing up in their childhood home. Did reading their recollections remind you of your childhood home? Share your stories with your book club.
  2. Discuss family structure with your book club—your families of origin and/or your current families. How do you think birth order and sibling relationships shape behavior?
  3. When Ann Packer’s debut novel, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, was published she won critical acclaim for her “brilliant ear for character” (The New York Times Book Review) and her “straight-forward prose that carries a good deal of emotional weight” (The Boston Globe). Read The Dive from Clausen’s Pier with your book club and compare the two novels. Has Packer’s writing style changed since the release of her debut novel? If so, how?