Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Women's History Month Book Review: Clara and Davie: the True Story of Young Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross, by Patricia Polacco (Scholastic, 2014)
Patricia Polacco is one of our great contemporary picture book authors, and specializes in picture books with serious content such as racism, disabilities, and even cancer, making them appropriate for older elementary school readers. In her newest book, which fits in perfectly for Women's History Month, she explores the girlhood of one of the most famous female figures of the 19th century, Clara Barton.
Clara was the fifth child to be born into the Barton family in Massachusetts, and with her mother in ill health, she was virtually raised by her siblings, particularly her older brother Davie, whom she adored. Joyous illustrations in Polacco's signature style show Davie showing Clara how to ride on a horse while she flings her arms in the air in delight. She helped Davie with his chores on the farm, and had an immediate affinity for nature and particularly with animals. But she had a speech impediment that made her shy and afraid of people; because no one understood this sort of problem in that day, her older sister punished her for not speaking correctly. School was a nightmare for her, and finally her parents agreed she could be taught at home. Even as a young girl, Clara had healing hands and neighbors let her treat their farm animals. When Clara's beloved brother Davie breaks both legs in an accident, she becomes his nurse and with her coaxing, urges him back to health, giving him the courage to try to walk again.
This is a touching introduction to a famous woman from history from a unique perspective--her love for her brother. Children will be able to easily identify with Clara's inhibitions, her love for nature, and animals, and her desire to help her brother heal. An author's note tells more about Barton's career as a teacher, nurse, and founder of the American Red Cross. In an intriguing historical twist, we learn that Patricia Polacco herself is distantly related to Clara Barton, on her mother's side of the family, and they own a vase which is reputed to once have belonged to Clara Barton herself.
See Mary Ann Scheuer and Louise Capizzio's post on Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month for more great suggestions on how to pair this book with other resources on Clara Barton.