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Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield
Susan Goldman Rubin, Author
Richie Pope, Illustrator
Candlewick Press, Biography, Oct. 13, 2020
Suitable for ages: 8-12
Themes: Mary Seacole, Biography, Jamaican, Creole, Nurse, Panama, Crimean War, Heroine
Opening: “As a child in Kingston, Jamaica, Mary Jane Grant watched her mother pick out a bottle of medicine for a sick British soldier. She always chose the right one. Her mother had made all the medicines herself from flowers and plants. Mary wanted to be a ‘doctress’ just like her mother when she grew up.”
The life of pioneering Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole gets its dramatic due in a sweeping and stunning biography.
Mary Seacole spent much of her life on the front lines of the Crimean War, ministering to the wounded, caring for soldiers, and making her mark on the world of medicine.
This fascinating biography honors Mary Seacole’s life, from her childhood in Kingston, Jamaica (1805), and her encounters with racist Americans to her treatment of cholera patients in Panama and her bitter run-in with Florence Nightingale, who declined to work with her in Crimea because she wasn’t white, But Mary Seacole knew that the sick and wounded needed her compassion and care, and despite all obstacles, she answered the call to help them. In doing so, she earned herself a place in history.
Author Susan Goldman Rubin gives voice to this fearless nurse and healer through captivating details drawn from Mary Seacole’s own writings, while debut illustrator Richie Pope vividly captures her service at the bedside and on the battlefield. Inspiring and engaging, this biography introduces a compelling heroine who rose above barriers to earn a place in history.
Why I like this book:
Susan Goldman Rubin has penned a very detailed book about this strong, dedicated and determined woman committed to nursing people back to health. No one got in her way or broke her, no matter the amount of prejudice she endured because of her race and lack of formal medical training. Even Florence Nightingale turned down her services to help because she felt Mary was unfit. And when Nightingale was ill, she refused to allow Seacole to treat her.
Ultimately Mary was respected for nursing skills performed during several yellow fever outbreaks in Kingston, the cholera epidemic in Panama and her tireless work on the frontline of the Crimea War between Russian an Turkey. She became known as Mother Seacole. She persevered because of her love and compassion to help others. She bypassed Nightingale and went directly to the battlefields and helped doctors treat and transfer sick and wounded soldiers, including some Russian soldiers. Eventually she and a business partner, Thomas Day, set up a convalescent home in a British Hotel in Crimea to nurse soldiers back to health. She even treated Queen Victoria’s nephew.
Unknown to Mary, a journalist William Russell who noticed her tenacity, praised her efforts in the stories he wrote about Mary for the London Times. She had become famous in England. With peace negotiations and a treaty signed, she prepared to leave Crimea. But before leaving, Mary visited the cemeteries and planted trees, flowers and shrubs in the honor of those who lost their lives. She wrote her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, and Russell wrote the introduction.
Although this book is filled with beautiful colorful illustrations, Mary Seacole’s story is meant for students in third to seventh grade. Each page is filled with detailed information, making it a perfect read for older students. It could be read aloud to younger students. Rubin put a lot of research into her book using Seacole’s memoir as a guide to the time period, There are sources notes and a bibliography at the end. It is a wonderful example of quality nonfiction that will be welcomed by many school libraries. Make sure you check out the backmatter. Queen Victoria’s nephew, an artist, sculpted a beautiful bust of “Mary Seacole, the Celebrated Crimean Heroine.” Today it rests on a pedestal at the Institute of Jamaica.
Susan Goldman Rubin is the author of many nonfiction books for children, including Stand There! She Shouted: The Invincible Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and the Quilts of Gee’s Bend. She lives in Malibu, California.
*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in return for a review.
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