Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen. Henry Holt, $17.99, Ages 8-12.

A fascinating but simple biography of well-known author, Louisa May Alcott, McDonough’s book is easy to read, and includes elements of Alcott’s life to tempt young readers. When young Louisa falls into a “frog pond, a kind black boy” jumps in and pulls her out, running away before she can thank him. Louisa always remembers him and believes it contributes to her becoming “an Abolitionist at a very early age.”
From an unconventional family who at one time lived on an experimental vegetarian farm, Louisa learns to keep a journal and later moves easily and naturally into teaching and writing. Illustrator Andersen uses exuberant gouache and pastels to show Louisa’s development, and to contrast dark and light with the losses Louisa experiences. With intense bright colors, Andersen also demonstrates singularities characteristic of Louisa’s personality.
Life in the mid-1800’s is difficult and the family is never wealthy until after the publication and success of her most famous novel, Little Women, in 1868. In her smoothly flowing text, author McDonough introduces readers to Louisa’s kindness, evident throughout the book, as Louisa cares for family members who are ill, goes to Washington, DC as a nurse for Civil War soldiers and spends time helping in hospitals, orphanages, and asylums. Later Louisa becomes the guardian for her niece, Lulu, when Lulu’s mother May, Louisa’s sister dies, shortly after Lulu’s birth.
Louisa was a traveler, with an intrepid spirit, whose relatively short life (she died at age 55) offers readers insight into her success as a writer. Quotes, poems, interesting facts about her writing and her family, important dates, a bibliography and especially a recipe for New England Apple Slump, one of her favorite desserts, are included at the end and add to the interest and appeal of this fresh and delightful picture book biography.

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