IN WRITING biography for young children one is faced with selecting from the pattern of a subject's life, those things which can be made understandable and interesting to a child and which will also give the reader a fair idea of who the subject was. And why it matters. It is not an easy job, which is why it is not often done. It is not easily done well, which is another reason.
These two new biographies, written expressly for young people to read for themselves or have read aloud, portray the lives of two great 19th-century women: Mary McLeod Bethune and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Mary McLeod Bethune was widely known once among the young people of my own color and generation. Times change. One generation's heroines become another generation's strangers. Eloise Greenfield has performed a valuable service in introducing to my children one of my heroines. The book is well written, easily understood and gives the feel, the pattern of what Mrs. Bethune's life was like. I read it then passed it to my youngre daughter who made what is, I think, the supreme compliment to an author of young children's biography; "Ma, I like her." Indeed, so will you.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was not heroic to our house. We faintly resented, I think, the idea that this little lady writing her "big book" had freed the slaves. Yet, I must admit that Johanna Johnston's biography was interesting and informative. I was not aware of the circumstances of Mrs. Stowe's childhood nor her early married life, and I was pleased to learn of them. Still I found the book a bit "romanticized" (if that's the word) both in terms of Mrs. Stowe's own feelings and her life. Also, and maybe this is really it, the text is arranged in a kind of semipoetic line scheme that seems to me distracting to the reader. Others may not find it so.
Both books are illustrated by pencil drawings. Those accompanying Harriet and the Runaway Book are softer and more shaded than the full page drawings of Mary McLeod Bethune and while they are gentle they somehow give the impression that, as my same daughter remarked, "this book is all gray." The drawings of Mrs. Bethune and her family manage to convey the varying colors and expressions of the Black family.
Both biographies are important. Both are worth purchasing for our children. Two books about women, written by women attempting to give the feel, the vibes, as it were, of their lives. It is not easy to do. It is too important not to try.