Monday, November 16, 2020

Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield by Susan Goldman Rubin, illustrated by Richie Pope

It's always a pleasure to read a book about a little known historical figure who should be more well-known. That is certainly the case of Susan Goldman Rubin's new book about Mary Grant Seacole. Mary was a Creole woman, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805 to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish father. Though her father died when she was young, his stories about war left Mary with a desire to someday travel. Her mother was a "doctress," making her own medicines using different flowers and plants, and Mary wanted to follow in her footsteps. 

After two trips to London, where she experienced racism for the first time Mary began helping at her mother's boarding house when an outbreak of yellow fever hit Jamaica, caring for the sick. During that time, she met an Englishman named Edwin Seacole and married him in 1836. Sadly, he died in 1844. Later, Mary acquired more experience caring for the sick when an outbreak of cholera hit while she was visiting her brother in Panama. 

But it was reading about the Crimean War in 1854 that convinced Mary to head to the battlefield with her mother's healing recipes. Volunteering as a nurse in London, she was turned away, so she headed to Turkey on her own. There, she tried to volunteer at Florence Nightingale's army hospital, but Nightingale rejected her because of the color of her skin. Undaunted, Mary headed straight for the battlefield, where she and her homemade medicines were more than welcomed and where Mary spent a number of years nursing wounded soldiers. 

Mary certainly risked her life more than once, but sadly returned from war in great debt. It was the praise of a war journalist that finally gave Mary the credit she deserved for all she did, and helped get her out of debt. 

Mary lived a very exciting life, and it has certainly been captured in this short, but informative picture book for older readers. Most surprising to me was her encounter with Florence Nightingale, who felt that Mary's race and class made her character automatically questionable. Clearly, Mary's character was both impeccable and strong, given what she unselfishly gave to the soldiers she nursed, a few of whom recognized her having been cared for by her in Kingston. 

Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield is a compelling biography, written in accessible language, and full-page, full-colored stylized digital illustrations. There are plenty of quotes, most from Mary's own book, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands published in 1857, as well as other sources noted in the back matter. 

Mary is shown to be brave, dedicated, and very tenacious. She is an historical figure that deserves to be recognized and admired by today's young readers.  

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was gratefully received from the publisher, Candlewick Press 

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