So, I think I should begin this post with something of a disclaimer. I’ve never really written a book review before and I’m honestly not sure what things should be covered and what things should be left alone. However, I am more than glad to share my thoughts, opinions, and perspectives with you in a way that would inform you about this biography of John Knox and perhaps help you to decide whether this book would be appropriate for your home library. Because who doesn’t have an extensive personal library in their home? I know I do.
I was asked to review this book by my friend Shaun Tabatt of Cross Focused Media, though he should bear no blame for the general shabbiness of this review because in no way did he influence what I write. Too bad, really.
The book I was asked to review is a biography of John Knox from the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series by Simonetta Carr. John Knox was one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. He helped to found the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland. Because of the volatility of the political situation, the story of this rabble-rouser makes for some exciting reading.
I think I should begin with the physical aspects of this book. I received a hardcover edition of this book and right away I was impressed with the durable binding and the high quality paper and printing. There are many impressionistic-style paintings throughout the book that help to illustrate the story. I liked how the illustrations had a realistic feel as opposed to the cartoon-like approach so many children’s books take. Particularly since this is a historical work, I felt like this style choice was very appropriate. Something I really loved about this book was the numerous photographs of the actual buildings and scenes where the action took place. For example, when they tell of a conflict that occurred at St Andrew’s Castle, they included an actual photograph of the castle along the Scottish coast. There is a photograph of the church where John Knox gave his first sermon. There are also many portraits of the people included in the narrative.
As to the writing itself, I enjoyed how the author tied the broader themes of political influences, historical chronicles, and personal accounts into one storyline. It was helpful to see how tied Knox’s life was to the broader political changes happening around him. This period of time was particularly turbulent with lives of people hanging on the religious beliefs of their next monarch. It might be perfectly safe to be a practicing Catholic or Protestant one year, but the next year the king or queen would die and, if the new ruler’s views differed, it would be convert or be imprisoned, or worse. People weren’t free to worship according to their convictions. And if you were a Presbyterian after John Knox had his way, you warmed a pew all day on a Sunday, like it or not. Gads. Of course, as a book aimed for upper elementary aged children, this biography didn’t get into the more bloody particulars. My boys would have enjoyed it, but this tale is safe for even the most sensitive children.
One of the finest features of the writing were the excerpts that were included from Knox’s letters, particularly to his future mother-in-law. I felt that more than anything else, these went the furthest to humanizing this influential man who lived 500 years ago. I would have enjoyed reading more of these.
Generally, I felt that the book was very well written. Even though it was meant for children, I felt that it gave me a lot to think about as an adult. I don’t think very young children would be that captivated; I do believe that older students would find this to be a fitting supplement to their history studies.
Considering that the book was written from the perspective of a hard-nosed Protestant firebrand and was published by a Reformation publisher, the tone of the narration makes a lot of sense. However, I think that Catholic readers might justifiably find the tone to be objectionable in places.
Anyway, I hope I covered what you would like to know about this book.