This Newbery Honor Book, subtitled "A Life of Discovery," covers Eleanor Roosevelt's life in 11 chapters and nearly 200 pages. The biography covers Roosevelt's childhood, education, courtship, marriage and motherhood, entrée into politics alongside her husband, and her humanitarian work independent of FDR. The text itself is straightforward and easy to read, presented in a scholarly fashion rather than the sort of fictionalized manner of some biographies. While certain events are dramatized, no dialog is invented - the words the reader encounters are those of the figures themselves, from journals, letters, and speeches. The best passages are the friendly and informative explanations offering children some background knowledge about the time, such as this account of courtship at the turn of the century, seamlessly woven into the chapter on "Cousin Franklin":
Of course, Eleanor and Franklin were never alone together. That would have been highly improper in those formal Victorian days. When Eleanor visited Hyde Park or Campobello, when she met Franklin in New York for lunch or tea, even they went riding in the Roosevelt carriage, a third person was always present. If a relative wasn't available, Eleanor's maid served as a chaperone (38).
These frequent explanations offer the reader a broader insight into time, describing the conventions of the era in order to later set Roosevelt's often unconventional views and activities in contrast. This treatment gives young readers a strong sense of why Roosevelt is worthy of special attention. The text is accompanied by more than 100 black and white photographs, both formal portraits and informal candid views of Roosevelt. Overall, the book focuses on Roosevelt's life as a public figure, though does not shy away from intensely personal matters such as her father's alcoholism, her adolescent insecurities, and even her husband's infidelity. In this way, Freedman manages to create a very intimate portrait of the woman herself and to make a larger-than-life figure, with a highly privileged background seem very real and accessible. Although Freedman's tone clearly indicates an admiration for his subject, the book does not idolize her, often drawing attention to her faults such as her lack of her tenderness as a mother when her children were very young (acknowledged by her son). The book concludes with a photo album, bibliography, and index. The book is readable from beginning to end and usable as a reference for exploration of specific events or issues from Roosevelt's life. Children will likely come to this book because of a classroom assignment, but in the process will certainly be entertained and inspired.