Clara and Davie: The True Story of Young Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross
Written and Illustrated by Patricia Polacco
(Scholastic, 2014, $17.99, New York)
Americans remember Clara Barton as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” the nurse who cared for Civil War soldiers and later founded the American Red Cross. In Clara and Davie, author-illustrator Patricia Polacco introduces us to a much younger Barton: a shy child who adored animals, flowers, and her big brother Davie.
When classmates mock Clara’s speech impediment, Davie comforts her, and her family decides to educate her at home. Clara proves an apt pupil, devouring books about medicine and using her knowledge to heal injured animals. Together, she and Davie explore the countryside. Then, one day, Davie suffers a bad fall – and Clara must use her skills to save her beloved brother.
Polacco’s pencil and acrylic illustrations evoke the beauty of the New England farm where Barton grew up and the joy nature brought her. In one especially winning spread, Clara and Davie occupy a window seat, laughing. Polacco positions the swing diagonally across the page, so the reader feels the same carefree exuberance as her characters. Polacco has a talent for capturing expressions: the happiness Clara feels with Davie, her despair when he is injured, her hurt when classmates taunt her, and the nastiness of her tormentors’ contorted faces. This is a story about hurt and healing, and Polacco shows readers both.
With more text than most picture-book biographies, Clara and Davie should appeal to readers of all ages. Adults will read the story to younger readers, and even middle graders will embrace this timely book about acceptance and love.
-Dorothy A. Dahm