Book Reviews: Biography

Our Eleanor

Our Eleanor

Bibliography:

Fleming, Candace. Our Eleanor; A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Remarkable Life. 2005. New York. Antheneum. ISBN 9780689865442

Plot:

A very personal look at the life of Eleanor Roosevelt.  This book not only chronicle’s the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, but provides a photographic journal and scrapbook of this remarkable woman’s America.

Critical Analysis:

It is apparent that Candace Fleming took the time to get to know one of America’s most provocative First Ladies.  Choosing a scrapbook format as an organizational style, Fleming crafts a personal look at Mrs. Roosevelt’s life.  The divisions in the work follow developmental lines, not always chronological, but always coherent. Students will relate to young Nell’s unhappy and somber childhood and Eleanor’s frank statements about her insecurities.  Future historians will enjoy the photographs of Mrs. Roosevelt snapped as she visited the slums, work projects, prisons, and soup kitchens.  Society minded girls will enjoy reading about the elegance surrounding the First Lady.

Choosing the scrapbook approach to the telling of Eleanor’s story was a brilliant decision.  Fleming presents the story as if one were sitting on the sofa, flipping through the pages of memories of a life well lived.  The heavyweight cream paper stock, the beautiful typeset, and the framed photographs reinforce the scrapbook format.  This book doesn’t require an ordered reading, rather a pensive turning of pages, pausing when a photo or quotation captures the imagination.  Beginning with a timeline of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life and ending with a detailed index, this biography is an excellent resource for the study of American life in the early twentieth century.  As an added touch, the sources used in compiling the contents of this work of art are carefully cited as they appear in the story, not by page number but by category.  Candace Fleming has produced an intimate portrait of a First Lady who changed the course and public expectations of all the First Ladies to come.

Awards:

ALA Amelia Bloomer Project , ALA Best Books For Young Adults , ALA Notable Children’s Books, CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book, CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children’s Book Council), IRA Teachers’ Choices, Jefferson Cup Honor Book, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award, Publishers Weekly Best Books,
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Reviews:

Reprinted from the back jacket of the book:

“Candace Fleming has chronicled the life of Eleanor Roosevelt as no other.” Chandler Roosevelt Lindsley and Elliott Roosevelt Jr., grandchildren of Eleanor Roosevelt

“Creating a unique form for biography—the collage—the author has given us a superbly rounded and penetrating portrait of one of our greatest women, Eleanor Roosevelt.”—Milton Meltzer, five-time National Book Award finalist and author of There Comes a Time: The Struggle for Civil Rights

Other Reviews:

“Had Eleanor Roosevelt kept a scrapbook—an incredibly well-organized and thorough scrapbook—this is how it might feel to look through it. Arranged chronologically, the volume works like a jigsaw puzzle. Open it up, pick individual pieces at random and when placed all together, a full picture of the subject emerges.”  Kirkus Book Reviews

“In this engaging and unstintingly honest biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, Fleming takes an unusual “scrapbook” approach, presenting Roosevelt’s life in short bursts of text, numerous archival photographs and reproductions of things like her final report card and handwritten letters. It all combines to produce a well-rounded portrait of an extraordinary woman.”
The Washington Post  (reprinted from the Barnes and Noble listing for this book.)

Connections:

Encourage the students to interview important people in their life and collect photos, or draw pictures to depict important life events.  Have them put together a scrapbook with meaningful, paragraph-long captions to accompany the artwork.

Discuss the layout of the biography.  Compare and contrast this approach with that of a traditional biography.  Ask what they like or don’t like about this concept.