Monday, June 3, 2013

Non-Fiction Monday: Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette

by Selene Castrovilla. 40 p. Boyds Mills Press, April, 2013. 9781590788806. (Finished copy courtesy of publisher in exchange for a review.)

In July of 1777, the Marquis de Lafayette arrived in America with the express hope of meeting General George Washington and aiding the patriots' cause. He was nineteen, left his own king against orders, paid his own way to America and suffered for "fifty-four stomach-wrenching days at sea," where he brushed up on his English.

When at last he found himself in the same room as the general, he had to overcome prejudice against the previous French advisors. Still, France was a powerful ally, so Washington invited Lafayette to stay with him. Unfortunately, Washington could not get Congress to approve a commission for Lafayette even though the young soldier was eager to prove his mettle.

The two grew close. So much so that when Lafayette was injured in battle, Washington instructed the doctor to take care of him as if he were his own son.

Then, the format abruptly changes from leisurely picture book to almost an afterword, with three pages of text and spot art. This is followed by a four page timeline, pages with suggestions for places to visit and books to read and a short glossary of the French phrases that are liberally sprinkled throughout the text. The final page features a pair of portraits of the two gentlemen that hang in the U.S. House of Representatives. The folk art rendering of them bear little resemblance to the portraits. The illustrations are curiously flat. 

I'm a huge fan of picture books in the middle school social studies classes and had high hopes for this one. It's obviously meticulously researched and nearly every page features a text box in the shape of a parchment featuring a quote by Lafayette from letters home. It's almost too laden with detail to provide an impressionistic zing. Still, in the hands of a gifted teacher such as the one that teaches grade seven social studies at my school...

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