Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott

Overview

When Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was published in 1868, it was an instant success. Louisa drew on her experiences in writing the novel, but there’s a lot more to her rags-to-riches story. Louisa came from a family that was poor but freethinking, and she started teaching when she was only seventeen years old. But writing was her passion. This informative biography captures the life of a compassionate woman who left an indelible mark on literature for all ages.

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Overview

When Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was published in 1868, it was an instant success. Louisa drew on her experiences in writing the novel, but there’s a lot more to her rags-to-riches story. Louisa came from a family that was poor but freethinking, and she started teaching when she was only seventeen years old. But writing was her passion. This informative biography captures the life of a compassionate woman who left an indelible mark on literature for all ages.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Enchanting gouache and pastel paintings adorn this thorough biography of Little Women author Alcott. Painted in a somewhat naïve style with elongated, flowing lines, single portraits of Alcott dominate several of Andersen’s (Patience Wright) spreads. Natural elements like feathers and flowers pattern her dresses and decorate the background, evoking her love of nature. While the fluid compositions evoke a carefree tone, textured gold backdrops, dark hues and serious facial expressions underscore the sadness and disappointments of Alcott’s short life, including a sister’s early death and her family’s poverty. McDonough’s (The Doll with the Yellow Star) plainspoken narrative, confined to filmy, rectangular canvases on each page, provides numerous anecdotes to keep the story paced and interesting. Readers learn of her father’s alternative, ahead-of-his-time views on education and diet, as well as Louisa’s efforts to help her impoverished family with finances (“Once she tried to earn money as a doll’s dressmaker. She chased the neighbor’s hens for their feathers and made fancy dolls’ hats to sell”). Endnotes provide a time line, some of the author’s quotations and early poetry, and even a favorite recipe for “apple slump.” Ages 6–10. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Kristina Cassidy
Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women has charmed children and adults alike for generations. While readers may know that Alcott based her characters on her own family, they will learn a lot more about the author's life in this informative biography. Alcott grew up in a family of abolitionists and educators, but her father had a hard time keeping a job. His progressive ideas often concerned his students' parents, leading to the closings of several of his schools. The Alcotts moved around Massachusetts throughout Louisa's childhood. As she grew up, Louisa realized that her family was quite poor, and she took a series of job to help support them. Louisa worked as a teacher and took care of soldiers during the Civil War, writing her own stories all the while. Beautiful pastel illustrations complement the story of Louisa's hard childhood and later success. In the classroom, this book would work well in units about women, writers, and overcoming adversity. Teachers may wish to read aloud portions of the forty-eight page biography to students. Struggling readers may have some trouble with the somewhat complicated sentence structure. Reviewer: Kristina Cassidy
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—McDonough has captured the essence of Alcott's fascinating life story in this picture book. Her narrative is anecdotal, focusing on events that influenced the writer's life and work. For example, she explains that Alcott was once saved from drowning by a "kind black boy" and how that experience motivated her abolitionist efforts later in life. The writing is simple, straightforward, and well paced. The author gives a balanced treatment of Alcott's early, middle, and later life. Interesting supplemental material includes a recipe for Alcott's favorite dessert. Andersen's stylized illustrations are done in warm oranges, rich blues, and dark greens. Rather than being pictorially or historically precise, they reflect the mood of the text by varying proportions and adding textures. The resulting images are bold, intense, and dramatic. Alexandra Wallner's An Alcott Family Christmas (Holiday House, 1996) is similar in length and reading level but focuses on just one year in Alcott's childhood. Christin Ditchfield's Louisa May Alcott: Author of Little Women (Children's Press, 2005) is a good choice for report writers. McDonough's title is for those looking for a short, accessible introduction to an amazing life.—Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT
Kirkus Reviews
This picture-book look at Louisa May Alcott gently traces her life from a happy, humble childhood to nursing soldiers in the Civil War to her later writing successes. Louisa mostly grew up in Massachusetts, in the company of her three sisters. The young Alcott girls spent Saturday nights in riotous pillow fights, acted out plays in homemade costumes and kept journals to record their thoughts-a pastime that would prove quite fruitful for Louisa. McDonough, appropriately for the audience, places the development of Louisa's character over literary exegesis, and her words are harmoniously both accessible and expressive. Andersen's swashes of gouache and pastels color the lush green fields and warm orange background that glows behind the text. Most intriguing, however, are the end notes, which include two early poems by Alcott and a traditional dessert recipe for New England Apple Slump. While too dense for the littlest of women (and men), middle-graders will be charmed by this first look at one of America's most beloved authors. (additional facts, timeline, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 8-12)
From the Publisher
Praise for Louisa:

"Enchanting gouache and pastel paintings adorn this thorough biography of Little Women author Alcott. . . . McDonough’s plainspoken narrative, confined to filmy, rectangular canvases on each page, provides numerous anecdotes to keep the story paced and interesting." —Publishers Weekly

"McDonough clearly lays out the essentials of Alcott’s life story. . . . Andersen’s gouache-and-pastel illustrations use strong shapes and rich colors to create iconic images. Textured gold backgrounds, dynamic and luminous, isolate the people portrayed from their everyday surroundings and intensify the pictures’ emotional content." —Booklist

"Middle-graders will be charmed by this first look at one of America’s most beloved authors." —Kirkus Reviews

"McDonough has captured the essence of Alcott’s fascinating life story in this picture book. . . . McDonough’s title is for those looking for a short, accessible introduction to an amazing life." —School Library Journal

"The result is an introductory biography that offers primary as well as secondary appeal, evincing some of the same charm as the subject’s famous works." —BCCB

 

Praise for Patience Wright:

A Booklist Top 10 Arts Books for Youth

A Notable Social Studies Trade Book

2008 Amelia Bloomer list

* "Andersen has a way with women characters; her cover depiction of Wright, looking straight at the audience, a small wax head in her hand, is particularly effective." —Booklist, starred review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805081923
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 8/18/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 1,009,598
  • Age range: 6 - 10 Years
  • Lexile: 890L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.10 (w) x 11.20 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of many books for children, including Sisters in Strength and Anne Frank. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Bethanne Andersen has illustrated many acclaimed books for children, including Patience Wright: America’s First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy. She lives in Boise, Idaho.

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