Castrovilla, Selene, and Drazen Kozjan. Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis De Lafayette. Honesdale, Pa: Calkins Creek, 2013. Print.
Non-fiction written for an elementary audience is now more popular than ever thanks to the Common Core. Good non-fiction is hard to find, and excellent works are scarce. This one teeters on the edge between the two.
Wonderfully illustrated, this highlights the grandeur and experience of Washington versus the youth and inexperience of the Marquis De Lafayette. The use of muted colors serves the battle scenes well and generally supports and adds to the textual emphasis.
The use of primary source material is also included in a parchment looking caption area on many pages. The idea works well and helps to challenge readers at the same time to tackle this more difficult offering in a more digestible bite.
One of the difficulties inherent in a small amount of space is the development of, and eventual resolution of the narrative. This decision making process becomes even more complicated when working with historical figures that are not yet known to their audience. The initial pictures painted with text and brush can have a tremendous influence on future encounters. It is for that reason that I have struggled with the portrayal of the Marquis De Lafayette, and even France. In the effort to portray his youth, inexperience, and devotion to the cause of liberty, the creators have chosen their path. It is neither right or wrong, it is merely their choice. You will have to decide for yourself, but think about it.
Another choice made by the creative team is the acknowledgment that the story continued beyond that of the illustrative content. They chose to provide a continuation of the text in what functions as both afterword and addendum. The inclusion of this matter makes a point that we should remember and bring to our young readers: just because a book has a lot of pictures does not make it inappropriate for older readers. The book has the shape and feel of a classic picture book, but the text is not what one might expect. It is plentiful on the page and the careful introduction of French words and phrases makes it sing. The ending section extends both the historical and textual complexity of the work with those word-filled pages. Opportunities for differentiation exist because of these additions and teachers will want to make this book available in their classrooms. School and public libraries will want to acquire it for the same reason, but realize that this book may not sell itself; it deserves a talk of the most animated variety. In short, I liked it.
Thank you for such an in-depth review, which makes me – the author! – think. This book took years to research, and then more years to get the words right. Picture books are harder than novels to write – it’s like walking a tight-rope on each page. The creative decisions you mention were excruciating, and it is only by the grace of my brilliant editor that this book is what it is. Good non-fiction is hard to find because it is so difficult to create that most houses settle for mediocre. I could go on, with a reply as long as your review, because writing is a lonely and solitary process and it is exciting to have this opportunity to connect. I will only add that I portrayed Lafayette as he portrayed himself in his letters and memoir. Rarely (in my experience) has a historical figure provided so much insight into himself. This was a lot easier than researching George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, whose members remained mute.