Author: Barbara Cooney
Illustrator: Barbara Cooney
Grade Level Equivalent:
Guided Reading Level:
Autobiography and Biography
American History, The Presidency, Women's History and Experience, Leadership and Responsibility, Life Experiences, Family Life, Communities and Ways of Life
"From the beginning the baby was a disappointment to her mother." So begins the story of Eleanor Roosevelt's painful childhood. Rejected by her mother and neglected by her father, she develops a "serious" demeanor, which keeps her isolated from other children as well. When her father takes her to a lodging house to serve Thanksgiving dinner to homeless boys, it is this demeanor which moves her to always remember the poverty in which some souls live. She is a lonely child, even before she is orphaned at the age of nine by her mother's diphtheria and her absent father's fall. Sent to live at Grandma Hall's gloomy, silent house, her shapeless dresses, short skirts, and black stockings make her stand out from the other girls. By the age of 14, her peers have become elegant young ladies and she is still an awkward girl. Finally, Grandma Hall writes to a European boarding school: "Eleanor is a good girl but sadly unattractive and full of fears." She asks the boarding school to accept Eleanor. Happily, Eleanor is accepted. At school she is encouraged to think for herself, and to be passionate about life. Her experience transforms her and prepares her for her destiny to become the First Lady of the United States, one of the most remarkable women of the 20th century.
Barbara Cooney, a two time Caldecott Medal winner, has said that a picture book is like a string of beads. The illustrations are the beads, and the text is the string that holds them together.
Children will be inspired by this biography of a great historical figure emerging from a life of hardship. Use Eleanor in studies of U.S. History or Great Women of the 20th Century.