January 2014 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

Clara Barton's Childhood

"Clara and Davie," by Patricia Polacco; Scholastic Press, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 4 to 6. 

Before she earned her nickname "Angel of the Battlefield" from tending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton (1821-1912) was a shy farmer's daughter with a lisp, who was home-schooled because classmates teased her.  This tale of inspiration and family strength comes straight from Barton's own flesh and blood - Polacco is a relative, and as a child was told stories about her remarkable ancestor. 

Thumbnail image for ClaraAndDavie_InteriorPage5.jpg

Growing up on a farm in North Oxford, Massachusetts, Barton was the youngest of five children.  Clara was born on Christmas Day, but her mother died shortly thereafter.  Polacco reveals this in such a way as not to frighten young children, yet still  poignantly conveys the loss; "Mama grew weak from illness. Soon all of the mothering of that baby was left to [Clara's older sister] Dolly." Dolly was a stern guardian, but Clara's great champion was her older brother Davie.  He encouraged her to accept and cultivate her ability to heal others - eventually, farmers would travel from all over for her to cure their sick animals.   Clara's strength and courage are put to the test when Davie is gravely injured in a fall. 


As mentioned above, Clara was home-schooled - each of her four older siblings was responsible for teaching her a different subject.  She thrived in this homemade schoolhouse, and Polacco's loving illustrations of the family reading in the parlor surrounded by filled bookshelves is a wonderful testament to the healing power of books. 

Polacco's trademark storytelling and charismatic illustrations will delight readers of all ages.  Don't wait until Women's History Month to read this book - Barton's captivating story is one to share year-round.

Publication Date: January 28, 2014