In a brief afterword, Meltzer states that the quotations in the book are taken “from authentic records” and that incidents depicted are “never invented,” but are “reconstructed from passages in her own letters or other writings.” This biography therefore is not a fictionalized account, but is an attempt at an honest depiction drawn from Child’s own words.
It is clear from the tone of the book that Meltzer admires and respects the strength, vision, tenacity, capabilities, selflessness, and purposefulness of his subject. Because the biographer stringently adheres to his intent not to fictionalize, however, the tone is never adulatory or fawning. Indeed, Meltzer reveals Child’s faults to his readers: She was against unconditional emancipation at first, and she was slow to accept Lincoln.
Although this is essentially a chronological, full-life account of Child, Meltzer makes it more believable and infinitely more interesting to the reader by highlighting events of the period and by describing in detail the locales in which Child lived and worked. The Childs’ experimental farm, which grew produce usually raised only in the South so that Southern food could be boycotted, is minutely depicted so that the reader readily understands how hard this rugged life was on both husband and wife.
When Child moved to New York to edit an abolitionist newspaper, she wrote a newspaper column for the Boston Courier, called “Letters from New York,” which were collected into a book. From this book,...
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The subject of this biography is not a household name. She is perhaps known best for her poem The New England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day, with its famous opening couplet “Over the river, and through the wood,/ To Grandfather’s house we go.” It is not common knowledge, however, that the self-educated Child was one of the first to write a sympathetic novel about Native Americans, was the editor of the first American children’s magazine, and was the author of the first history of women, the first books about “good housekeeping,” and the first syndicated newspaper column. Most important, she was the first American to write a condemnation of slavery.
Meltzer, a historian and biographer of more than sixty books of nonfiction for young people, has described himself as a chronicler of the underdog; his books, he claims, are mostly about “aspiration and struggle.” Writing and editing books about African Americans, immigrant Jews, the Jews of the Holocaust, and histories of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, among others, Meltzer, though blatently sympathetic to those who have historically overcome great barriers or those who have helped others selflessly, is never overawed by his subject.
Using about two hundred letters at the time of the writing of this biography to “draw” his subject—he has, since the publication of this book, edited all Child’s correspondence—Meltzer has vividly re-created the life and times of a strong-willed and wholly likable human being. It is clear that he was drawn to Child because they shared common causes and social concerns, but he wisely never lets his enthusiasm intrude. This is an extraordinarily well-researched, never-dull work of scholarship that brings to life a woman whose legacy of writing is as important in all times as well as in her own.