Name of Book: Invincible Louisa
Author: Cornelia Meigs
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Audience: An Amazon reviewer self-identified as “10-year old reader states “It is a wonderful book for 11, 12, and 13 year olds, or 10 year olds who are advanced in reading.” I would say that anyone who read Little Women and loved the story and characters would be the audience for this biography.
Summary: A biography of Louisa May Alcott detailing the events of her lifetime in the context of devotion to her family and their ideals and her drive to achieve security for them through her writing.
Literary elements at work in the story: Originally published in 1933, this Newbery awarded biography has a refreshingly sweet tone, without being saccharine. It is of note that this biography was written in the shadow of WWI and in the Great Depression era; its language and uplifting style may reflect the need for cheer in that time. The author writes as an admirer, not only of Alcott’s writing but of, Alcott herself. Informed by Alcott’s letters and journals, works published by “those who knew her” and interviews with descendents, Louisa May Alcott’s life story is told with detailed description. I think many ‘tweens would identify with young Louisa who runs down open hillsides, sits in tree limbs thinking and “goes home with something new in her heart” after viewing a magnificent sunrise. History buffs would marvel at a life in the center of transcendentalism, abolition and the Civil War. Family friend, Emerson, is warmly portrayed. Louisa’s time as a nurse in a Washington hospital is vividly told and shows a side of war as tragic and terrible as the battlefield. It is the depiction of a loving family and Louisa’s fierce devotion to their well being that is the recurring theme of this well told life story. When a young girl reads Little Women, she often sees herself in Jo. Returning to the classic later in life, many of us hold to our identification with the feisty, independent daughter but also notice the resilience of Marmie. Reading Invincible Louisa, we see that Louisa May Alcott was as remarkable as any of her literary characters.
(How) does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The experiences and achievements of Louisa May Alcott are all the more remarkable because she was a woman of the 1800s when women had few rights separate from their fathers or husbands. “Poor as poverty, but serene as heaven” is relayed as a family saying and the struggle to survive economically is a major theme. Fighting the injustice of slavery during the Civil War era is a force of her family’s and Louisa’s actions and ideals.
Theological conversation partners: “God help us all and keep us for one another” is Louisa’s fervent prayer. Faith is relational and at best intergenerational: I wonder if this biography and all adolescent literature might not be an important way that an adult reminds themselves of the lives of young people. Personally, I would place this biography on the shelf next to Little Womenand remember that “part of the magic of Louisa’s charm for young people surely lies in the fact that she sees thing through their eyes, that she depicts the ups and downs of the early adventures of life from the young point of view. The youthful readers all feel entirely that Louisa is on their side”. (pg 181)
Faith Talk Questions:
- What parts of the book would you describe as happy? Why?
- What parts of the book would you describe as sad? Why?
- What qualities about Louisa May Alcott allowed her success?
- What did each member contribute to the family? Bronson, Abba, Anna, Elizabeth and May?
- Louisa had “encouragers” like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker and Thomas Niles. Who are your “encouragers”? Who do you encourage and how?
- A lot happened historically in Louisa May Alcott’s life time. What would a biographer record about the history of your life time?
- Would you describe Louisa May Alcott’s life as faithful and why or why not?
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Robin Crawford.
Filed under: Books written for Grades 5-8 (Ages 10 -13), Faith Questions For...., High School Students, Middle Schoolers, Older Elementary Tagged: | Civil War, History, Louisa May Alcott, Newbery award, writers