Louisa May's Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women

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Louisa May Alcott is best known for penning Little Women, but few are aware of the experience that influenced her writing most-her time as a nurse during the Civil War. Caring for soldiers' wounds and writing letters home for them inspired a new realism in her work. When her own letters home were published as Hospital Sketches, she had her first success as a writer. The acclaim for her new writing style inspired her to use this approach in Little Women, which was one of the first novels to be set during the Civil...

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Louisa May Alcott is best known for penning Little Women, but few are aware of the experience that influenced her writing most-her time as a nurse during the Civil War. Caring for soldiers' wounds and writing letters home for them inspired a new realism in her work. When her own letters home were published as Hospital Sketches, she had her first success as a writer. The acclaim for her new writing style inspired her to use this approach in Little Women, which was one of the first novels to be set during the Civil War. It was the book that made her dreams come true, and a story she could never have written without the time she spent healing others in service of her country.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Pamela Paul
…a fascinating look at an important chapter in the author's life…Krull deftly sprinkles Alcott's own words throughout…The story will probably resonate most with children already familiar with Little Women, and open a welcome window into Alcott's keen intellect and moral sense.
Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
Most people know that Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women, but few know much about Alcott's life in the years previous to its publication. This well-researched and engaging book highlights Alcott's experiences as an Army nurse during the American Civil War; "allowed" to become a nurse in late 1862 because of her age—30—unmarried status and "plain" looks, Alcott travels to Washington D.C. to minister to soldiers suffering everything from measles and typhoid fever to those injured at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Alcott's letters home during this time are full of daily events, descriptions of soldiers, and the interactions of white and black workers at the hospital. However, Alcott succumbs to typhoid fever herself and eventually is brought back to Concord by her concerned father. When Alcott finally feels better, she puts together a collection of her letters home and they are published by an antislavery newspaper under the title Hospital Sketches. The success Alcott finds with her short pieces encourages her to produce a number of short stories, and eventually, she is asked to write a "girls' book." At first reluctant, Alcott eventually relents and writes Little Women in ten weeks. The rest is history. The text of this book is exceptionally strong and the accompanying illustrations are an excellent support for visual readers; I especially liked the quilted pages that evoke various events from Little Women. The text also has an interesting footnote page about "Women in Medicine" as well as a back cover explanation of the Battle of Fredericksburg that helps readers understand how horrific the battle was. This is an excellent biography for elementary and middle school libraries. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—This picture-book biography concentrates on Alcott's service as a Civil War nurse. The journey from her home in Massachusetts to a hospital in Washington, DC, was difficult and eye-opening. Arriving to harsh conditions and a constant stream of wounded soldiers, Alcott dealt with her situation by writing about it. Explaining how the experience shaped her sensibilities and led to the publication of her first successful book, Hospital Sketches, Krull makes the case that Little Women may not have happened without her subject's Civil War involvement. Digital oils on gessoed canvas were used to create the images. Alcott appears slightly idealized, attractive but not beautiful. The wartime palette is somber and dark, but the protagonist is often wearing something with a red or white accent to make her stand out. Her figure consistently commands the eye. In the last few pictures, when the war has ended and Alcott has achieved success, the colors are much brighter and convey a more cheerful mood. To help readers understand the larger context of the time, notes about women in 19th-century medicine and the Battle of Fredericksburg are included. This portrait is brief but compelling, and it may inspire readers to seek out more information about a groundbreaking author.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Kirkus Reviews
During the Civil War, Louisa May Alcott served as a volunteer nurse, caring for Union soldiers in Washington, D.C., between December 12, 1862, and January 21, 1863. This well-researched biographical vignette explores the brief but pivotal episode in Alcott's life. An abolitionist, Alcott longed to fight in the Union Army, but she did her part by serving as a nurse. Alcott met the female nursing requirements: She was 30, plain, strong and unmarried. Krull describes her challenging solo journey from Massachusetts by train and ship and her lonely arrival in Washington at the "overcrowded, damp, dark, airless" hospital. For three weeks she nursed and provided "motherly" support for her "boys" before succumbing to typhoid fever, forcing her to return to Massachusetts. Krull shows how Alcott's short tenure as a nurse affected her life, inspiring her to publish letters she sent home as Hospital Sketches. This honest account of the war earned rave reviews and taught Alcott to use her own experiences in her writing, leading to Little Women. Peppered with Alcott's own words, the straightforward text is enhanced by bold, realistic illustrations rendered in digital oils on gessoed canvas. A somber palette reinforces the grim wartime atmosphere, dramatically highlighting Alcott in her red cape and white nurse's apron. An insightful glimpse into a key period in Alcott's life and women in nursing. (notes on women in medicine and the Battle of Fredericksburg, sources, map) (Picture book/biography. 9-11)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802796684
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 577,492
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: 1040L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

KATHLEEN KRULL is well known for her innovative, award-winning nonfiction for young readers and many picture books biographies, including Houdini: The World's Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King, A Woman for President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull, and her most recent picture book biography Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets as well as the successful "Lives of..." series. www.kathleenkrull.com

CARLYN BECCIA is the award-winning author and illustrator of Who Put the B in Ballyhoo? and The Raucous Royals. www.carlynbeccia.com

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2013

    Beautifully designed and illlustrated, Kathleen Krull presents a

    Beautifully designed and illlustrated, Kathleen Krull presents a fleshed-out Louisa May Alcott, overcoming her fears at being so far away from home to serve as a Civil War nurse. Quoting Louisa's journals and using her first success, Hospital Sketches as the guide,  Krull presents a logical course for the creation of Little Women. Highly recommended. 

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