Scribbles, Sorrows, and Russet Leather Boots: The Life of Louisa May Alcott
Liz Rosenberg, Author
Diana Sudyka, Illustrator
Candlewick Press, Biography, Oct. 12, 2021
Suitable for ages: 10-14
Themes: Louisa May Alcott, Biography, 19th Century Author
Insightful, exciting, and deeply moving, Liz Rosenberg’s distinctive portrait of the author of Little Women reveals some of her life’s more complex and daring aspects.
Moody and restless, teenage Louisa longed for freedom. Faced with the expectations of her loving but hapless family, the Alcotts, and of nineteenth-century New England society, Louisa struggled to find her place. On long meandering runs through the woods behind Orchard House, she thought about a future where she could write and think and dream. Undaunted by periods of abject poverty and enriched by friendships with some of the greatest minds of her time and place, she was determined to have this future, no matter the cost.
Drawing on the surviving journals and letters of Louisa and her family and friends, author and poet Liz Rosenberg reunites Louisa May Alcott with her most ardent readers. In this warm and sometimes heartbreaking biography, Rosenberg delves deep into the oftentimes secretive life of a woman who was ahead of her time, imbued with social conscience, and always moving toward her future with a determination that would bring her fame, tragedy, and the realization of her biggest dreams.
Why I like Scribbles, Sorrows, and Russet Leather Boots:
Liz Rosenberg’s detailed biography of Louisa May Alcott’s life will captivate a new generation of teens and appeal to all readers of Little Women. It is well-researched and focuses on the many events that influenced Louisa’s complicated personal and writing life. Rosenberg explores the Alcott family economic hardships, poverty, constant moves, and family mental illness. Louisa was influenced by her father’s philosophical, transcendental, and abolitionist views, and her mother’s feminism. And Louisa grew up around Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, all neighbors and great friends.
While Rosenberg offers details about all of the members of the family, the chronological narrative focuses on Louisa’s independent spirit and the heavy burden she shoulders to help support her family. She did so through writing, teaching, cleaning, sewing and serving as an army nurse during the Civil War. It was difficult for Louisa to be a female author and she submitted stories under many different pen names. She wrote what was popular at that time for the money, not so much for her own pleasure. She also edited a girl’s magazine, which she disliked doing, but it ultimately proved an asset when she began writing for girls.
I was surprised to learn that Louisa’s emotions swung from depression to mania. When she finally decided in middle-age to write Little Women, she was so absorbed (manic) in her writing that she barely took time to eat or sleep. Readers will see this likeness in Little Women. Her mother suffered depression and her father suffered severe depression and mania. Louisa was plagued with health issues after mercury poisoning from a medicine she received during the war. She was in constant physical pain and required a lot of quiet.
Louisa really didn’t enjoy the fame her novels brought her. It was an intrusion in her life. She hated publicity, didn’t like to autograph her books, refused interviews, and felt stalked by fans that frequently showed up unexpectedly at Orchard House, where she wrote most of her famous novels. Everything she wrote after Little Women, turned to gold. The advance sales of her books worth off the charts and she was very wealthy. She finally was able to support her entire family and raised a niece for eight years, before her death. And her happier memories were always of growing up in a tight-knit family and spending hours in nature at Orchard House.
Diana Sudyka’s pen and ink illustrations are fun and lighten the story. Scribbles, Sorrows, and Russet Leather Boots is a valuable contribution to biography collections. Alcott’s life story will remain with readers long after they set it down. It’s just one of those unforgettable stories about a woman who dared to dream.
Liz Rosenberg is a poet, best-selling novelist, professor, and writer of acclaimed books for children, including Monster Mama, an International Reading Association Children’s Choice; The Carousel; and What James Said, among other titles. She is also the author of the biography House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery. Her books have received numerous awards, including the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the Paterson Prize. Liz Rosenberg lives in Binghamton, New York, with her daughter, Lily, and their dog, Sophie.
*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.