Stanley, Diane. 1998. Joan of Arc. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN: 9780064437486
Joan of Arc is a young woman who believes she has been called by God to save her country, France. She risks her life to help aide a man named Charles, who she believes is the man who should be king. Although she is brave in her efforts and lives through dangerous encounters, she is ultimately killed as a martyr for her beliefs.
This book is recommended for ages seven and up, and I believe it is written in a way that would appeal to that age group. The book begins with a small background knowledge page of the 100 years War and a pronunciation guide for the French words and continues to aide readers in their comprehension of the information and storyline. A war on American soil is incomprehensible to most American students, so the author sets a stage of what life was like for the French during this war, telling the reader that "You have never known what it's like to live in peace. Neither have your parents or grandparents." In addition, a concept like a person hearing voices would be characterized as insane by today's standards, so the author points out that the people of this time "were deeply religious and viewed the world not from a scientific point of view but rather a spiritual one. They accepted the unexplainable much more readily than we would today." With that matter cleared up, the reader is ready to embark on the journey with Joan.
The events of Joan's life are told in very simple, concise sentences. The facts are presented, but other events like Joan's predictions of events are presented as facts although many people today would be and are sceptical of her ability to foresee the future events such as seeing herself struck with an arrow. In a time of continual war for generations, it is not surprising that the citizens would rally around a central figure who seemed to have a secret communication with God.
The final scene of the book where Joan is burned at the stake is a powerful historical lesson on allowing the mob mentality to eat away at the common sense of a nation. Here in America, it is unfathomable for the citizens of a town to get together to watch someone die, especially in such a horrific way. The simple way the scene was set up gives the sense of how "normal" this occurrence was in this time period. However, the quotes from the secretary of the king of England where he says,"We are all lost for we have burned a saint" demonstrates the compassion that even Joan's enemies felt towards her.
The illustrations for the book are great. They give a feel for the time period in which the story takes place. The rich colors illustrate the emphasis on royalty and tradition while pictures of the knights in their armor give a visual of the warfare methods of the day. The picture of Joan's death stands out. It is a mainly darkly colored page except for the red stages where the royalty sat, red for the innocent blood that was now on their hands.
Finally, the author leaves the reader to decide if Joan was mentally ill, determined to believe she was the one to fulfill old French prophecy, or if she was indeed the chosen one. "Sometimes in studying history, we have to accept what we know and let the rest remain a mystery."
Publishers Weekly: "Appealing to the audience's intelligence and imagination, this book stimulates an interest in both its particular subject, Joan of Arc, and history in general," said PW in a starred review.
School Library Journal: This narrative description of the greatest of French saints is a work of art, a good story, and a model of historical writing."
Excerpts from this book would be great to use as comparisons to today's viewpoints, warfare tactics, and views of heroes. The pictures could also be used to exemplify the dress, colors, and daily life of the time in which Joan of Arc lived and died.