As someone who wrote a high school term paper on the Crimean War, I was thrilled when Candlewick offered the opportunity to review Mary Seacole Bound for the Battlefield, written by Susan Goldman Rubin and illustrated by Richie Pope. Trench warfare, the Charge of the Light Brigade, and Florence Nightingale’s team of battlefield nurses are commonly associated with the Crimean War, but after reading this well-researched, engaging, nonfiction picture book, I’ll forever associate Mary Seacole.
The product of a Creole “doctress” mother and Scottish officer father, Mary developed joint passions for becoming a healer and for worldwide exploration. “By the time she was twelve, she was skillful enough to help her mother dress wounds and mix medicines” that were crafted from flowers and plants. Later, with her mother and on her own, Mary successfully treated patients afflicted with yellow fever and cholera. Even though the reading age is rated at 8-12, two reasons I feel this book is most appropriate for children 5th grade and above are the detailed descriptions of these diseases and of the prejudice Mary endured for her “duskier” or “yellow” skin. But I can definitely imagine Mary Seacole Bound for the Battlefield spawning lively classroom discussions.
Struck by “newspaper reports that more men were dying (in the Crimea) from disease than from bullets,” Mary felt the call to join Florence Nightingdale’s staff of nurses. But after being rudely denied by the War Office in London and soundly rejected by Florence, Mary vowed to “open her own convalescent home in the Crimea to nurse invalids.” True to her word, she found a business partner, sailed to Constantinople in January of 1850, and built and opened the British Hotel for medical treatment. She used every bit of her savings to pay for bandages, food, and everything else her patients needed. But one of her grateful patients, a nephew of Queen Victoria named Prince Viktor, raised money for Mary when he learned she had returned to Jamaica bankrupt. At age 65, she was poised to lend her healing skills to soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War, but at this point, officials deemed her “too precious to lose.”
For all that Mary accomplished in the face of hardship and discrimination, she remains a shining inspiration to us all. Thank you to Susan Goldman Rubin for introducing Mary Seacole to young readers in such glorious detail, and thank you to Candlewick Press for publishing this wonderful book. Certainly, if I had the opportunity to write another Crimean War term paper, I would eagerly include this selfless, passionate, determined, and incredibly adventurous woman.
To connect with author Susan Goldman Rubin, check out her website @ http://www.susangoldmanrubin.com
Illustrator Richie Pope’s twitter address is @richiepope. Click here to be connected!