Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton: A Biography by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

I am curious. I have just finished reading The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton: A Biography by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, which is marketed as juvenile reading. I don't find anything juvenile about it. It is the story of an author who did not write for children. She never had or wanted children of her own. She was once a very lonely child herself, taught by a governess while often abroad with her parents, but she is an adult by page 34 of this book. Much of the book is about Wharton's failing marriage and divorce. Why is this book considered juvenile?

Of course, the easy answer is that it is slightly oversized book, filled with pictures, and under 200 pages and written by a former teacher and school librarian. There are many biographies of this size and shape aimed at the school and public library markets, and The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton is a Clarion Book, a children's imprint from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. But nothing in this book besides the catalog in publication says that it is for younger readers.

I am not the only reader to ask my question. In School Library Journal, the reviewer indicates the book is aimed at grades 6 to 9, but then goes on to say that it is a "sometimes charming title that may struggle to find an audience." The publisher's website indicates that the title is "7th grade +."

Having had a daughter who read well above her grade level and bristled against being given books that were too easy, I do not in any way want to advocate holding books back from children. Still, I wonder what child in elementary or middle school would want to read about Edith Wharton. I think the reviewer in VOYA got it right in calling The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton "a high school biography." Students might be reading Wharton stories and novels in high school, and a book on her life seems to fit there, in my opinion.

Formatting and marketing, however, seem to have succeeded in getting the book into a good number of children's collection. Only a few public libraries seem to have put the book in their young adult or teen collections and one added it to its adult collections.

For the record, I enjoyed the book very much. Wooldridge recounts Wharton's life concisely with just enough detail to put it into a context and make the reader sympathetic to the novelist's views. The pictures are well-chosen and support the story line. The biographer offers only a small amount of literary analysis but does keep the reader informed as to what books were important in each stage of Wharton's life. I think it could easily be put into adult collections, but I think its best home might be collections for older teens.

What do you think? Is there a good reason for calling The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton a juvenile book? I ask respectfully.

Wooldridge, Connie Nordhielm. The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton: A Biography. Clarion Books, 2010. 184p. ISBN 9780547236308.

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