Dangerous Jane: The Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Alice Ratterree

  Dangerous Jane: The Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Alice Ratterree, Peachtree, 9781682632062, 2017 (first paperback edition in 2020) 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Paperback

Genre: Biography

What did you like about the book?  This picture book biography tackles the contradiction that is Jane Addams. Admired for her settlement house work (she founded Hull House in 1889) she was later castigated as a traitor for her involvement in the international peace movement. This picture book treatment, with realistic and delicate watercolors, traces Jane’s life from her privileged childhood and unconventional early years (she attended college and traveled in Europe) through her opposition to WWI. Some of the images are quite striking, such as the facsimiles of Jane’s FBI files on the half-title page or the title page itself, where we see not Jane herself, but merely the sweep of her long green dress as she hurries by, no doubt bent on some progressive action. In fact, Jane is always shown in green in the book, although I couldn’t find any reference to that in any historical documents, so perhaps it’s a metaphorical choice. Back matter includes an informative essay about Jane’s peace work, photographs and a timeline.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I didn’t think that Slade had done enough to lay things out for young readers in a way that would clarify Addams’ actions and legacy. “A disease made Jane’s back crooked” (it was tuberculosis, which Slade does not mention or explain), which the author then combines with seeing poor children as the impetus for her deep sympathy for the poor. This seemed simplistic to me and drew Jane as a passive actor. Gallingly, settlement houses are introduced but not explained. I’m pretty sure children reading the book would come away imagining poor people lived in Hull House. The radicalness of Addams’ actions both in founding Hull and in taking up the cause of pacifism are not explored either. I also found the beauty of the illustrations slightly at odds with the real Jane; she was ladylike in appearance, but I can’t call her beautiful. Here she resembles a Gibson Girl.

To whom would you recommend this book?  I would recommend The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone (2015) over this book. Chances are you only need one Jane Addams picture book bio. If you need two and one that specifically looks at her peace activism, then by all means, purchase this one as a supplement. 

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Biographies

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: November 14, 2020

This entry was posted in *Book Review, Biography and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.