Joan of Arc
by Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel
1896. The Pierpont Morgan Library and The Viking Press
*Available online from The Rosetta Project.
Joan of Arc (1412-1431) is a Roman Catholic saint who is considered a French heroine for her role in The Hundred Years' War.
This book gives a brief introduction to Joan's childhood, then describes her earliest religious visions before jumping into her involvement in the Hundred Years' War where she bravely fought to restore Charles VII as the French king, under the guidance of Saints Michael the Archangel, Catherine, and Margaret.
About the Illustrations
The illustrations use delicate lines and intricate details to bring Joan's world to life. There are many battle scenes shown in the pictures, which include all the armor, swords, horses, torches, and ships any young reader could want. Wherever Joan appears on a page, her face always looks as though she is seeing and hearing things things that others cannot, and she shows a calmness and determination that really help the reader understand her attitude toward battle, and toward doing the will of God.
The original book does not seem to have an author's note, but the facsimile edition I read has an "Introduction" section preceding the text. This note, written by Pierpont Morgan Library's Curator of Early Children's Books, Gerald Gottlieb, lays out the political and military climate of Joan's time and explains how she became involved in the war. It also discusses the records from her time that make it possible for us to know all we do about her today.
This is a truly inspiring book. Though it was written in the 1890s, it holds up just as well as, if not better than, any contemporary picture book biography. Kids who are not familiar with French history or geography might benefit from reading the book with a map nearby, as there are many place names mentioned that didn't mean anything to me. But even without much geographical knowledge, kids will love reading about Joan's exhilarating experience bringing her country to victory, and the agony of her suffering as she is later mistreated and punished for doing God's will. It's remarkable how much Joan's story parallels Christ's death, and for that understanding alone, every Catholic child should read this book.