Boston, MA: Clarion Books, 2016

Florence Nightingale did not walk an easy path to become the legendary Lady with the Lamp.  She struggled to obtain the educatation and experience she needed to provide the sort of nursing care for which she was so celebrated. Young Flo had to beg and persuade her parents to allow it, and work around road blocks thrown up by Victorian norms for a well-to-do female.  Consequently, this is a story of courage and perseverence on many levels over a lifetime, not just at the British Army Hospital in Turkey for two years where Florence became famous.  Florence made progress not just in nursing and hospital conditions (where her methods are still in evidence), but for women everywhere.

Catherine Reef deftly weaves in information about Victorian England and the strict social rules imposed on women of the time. Readers will have a better understanding of why Florence, and young women like her, did not disobey and leave their families to find their own way.  The idea of women being unable to pursue their own education and career choices can be difficult for modern readers to fully grasp, but this book brings the problem into focus.  Reef also gives us insight into the deplorably gruesome condition of hospitals and health care in general, making all of us even more grateful to Florence Nightingale for revolutionizing nursing.

Reef depicts Florence as she was: smart, pretty, ambitious, but with a moral compass that kept her from seeking power for its own sake.  She strove to fulfill her purpose against the wishes of her parents, withstood the jelousy and criticism of her older sister, and overcame the resentment she felt toward them when their approval came after her fame.  Through it all, she wrestled with depression and other health issues, and yet persevered.

Reef is a regular on starred review, notable, and award lists for good reason, and this biography will undoubtedly rack up accolades, too.  It is an interesting and readable page turner; we want to know what happens with Flo! Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of a Legendary Nurse belongs on every middle school and high school library’s biography shelf. It includes copious notes, additional reading, and an index.  It will be out in November, 2016.

Dewey: 921                                                                   Interest Level: Grades 6-12

Awards and Reviews:  None yet – stay tuned!

Younger Readers might like:  Florence Nightingale by Demi

Fiction Pairing: The Scandelous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry (girls in Victorian England).                                              The Drummer Boy’s Battle: Florence Nightingale by Dave Jackson (British Army Hospital in                                            Crimean War).

On the Web:

The Life and Letters of Florence Nightingale at UAB Libraries from the Univerity of Alabama.                                        Includes more images and letters written by Florence Nightingale.