Sometimes when I get to review a book, I do a little happy dance like when Captivated arrived in my in-box. This book, however, is the first time that my kids did that dance with me. When Simonetta Carr’s latest biography for children showed up in the mail, my two oldest children recognized the cover style because of the other two biographies in our library and began to jump up and down, begging to look at it. The toddler, who is not exactly the target audience here, joined in because she doesn’t want to be left out of any celebration if she can help it.
Simonetta Carr excels at introducing young elementary aged children both to great heroes of the faith, and to the beauty of biographies as a genre. She writes in an age appropriate manner, and my children, especially my Mackerdoodle (6.5), are captivated by the stories. Knox is a controversial character, and often both misunderstood and misrepresented, but Carr deals with him kindly. She walks through Knox’s complex life clearly and chronologically, focusing on events and people rather than the ideas and words for which he is most known. One cannot tell the story of Knox without delving deeply into the political mess that was England and Scotland of the time. Carr explains the accompanying history in an age appropriate way, without turning it into a Disney princess tale. There is an over simplification of a few points only because it is a book for children, and there is only so much that be explained. Her attention to historicity is laudable. I was most impressed with phrases like, “We can’t be sure. . . ” and “We just don’t know. . .” sprinkled through out. I also love the fact that she includes direct quotes not only from Knox, but also from his contemporaries, rather than trying to re-interpret their words for children.
I always struggle with children’s history books. History is never cut and dried, yet so many children’s books are written in the “good guy/bad guy” construct. Simonetta Carr does an excellent job of breaking out of that mold. She also avoids the other pitfall of children’s writing in which authors make every historic event equivalent to a playground skirmish. There is no language of sharing, kindness, good helper or the like. Carr does have opinions on the topics covered (as should we all) and does include editorial remarks at times. In most cases I didn’t mind, as she and I share much of the same appreciation for Knox and his legacy; however, their presence did stand out to me. I would prefer my history lessons for the children to be as much fact as possible, leaving me to interpret with them. That is, however, mere preference, rather than criticism.
After completing the book, I asked my Mackerdoodle what she thought. She had enjoyed the book, and had a new appreciation for the trials endured during the Reformation, but she had one question for me. “Why did it seem like most of the men were named John and most of the ladies were named Mary?” It was a valid question, and not one that can be blamed on Simonetta Carr and her writing. I learned several new things as I read the book. I did not know that the Scots confession pre-dated the Westminster confession. I did not know that Knox wrote a book on the Reformation in Scotland (I would love to read that!) Finally, I did not know that Knox and Queen Mary Stuart had cordial conversations on several occasions.
Simonetta Carr’s biography of John Knox is not only an excellent biography for children, it would be a wonderful place for an adult to begin to meet the real John Knox, pastor, husband, father and loyal Scot.
I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an hard-cover edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.