Monday, December 26, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: How Kate Warne saved President Lincoln by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Valentina Belloni

As anybody who knows me is aware, I am not a fan of picture book biographies. However, I went into this one thoroughly prepared to enjoy it, since I was excited about having more information on Kate Warne.

Unfortunately, I ended up not liking it after all, and not just because it was a picture book biography.

Kate Warne was the first female detective hired by Allan Pinkerton. She collects information at tea parties and by telling fortunes. Then the Civil War begins and Kate's work takes on a dangerous turn. She intercepts a plot to assassinate President Lincoln and works with Pinkerton to save the president's life. Kate Warne continued to work for Pinkerton and was publicized as the first female police detective after her death.

An author's note mentions the lack of information about Kate Warne and a few more brief notes about her life as well as a short bibliography.

While I appreciate the lack of information to work with and the limits of the picture book biography, this felt very sketchy. I was skeptical of the dialogue given to some of the characters; it definitely lent an historical fiction feel to the book. Most of all, I disliked the art. It's sweet and cute and gorgeous - and completely unsuited to the story of a woman making her way in a man's world in the gritty Civil War era. All the characters, including background characters, are pasteboard white and look about sixteen. There is a lot of vibrant colors in the dresses, something I doubt Warne would have had as a poor widow working for a pittance.

Verdict: I'm not generally a fan of picture book biographies to start with, but I felt that this one didn't even make much of an effort to be historically accurate. It's awesome to have more women in history, but I had hoped for something better. Not recommended.

ISBN: 9780807541173; Published 2016 by Albert Whitman; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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