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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Clara and Davie, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. Scholastic, 2014. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Clara cried all the way to the barn. "I'm trying hard to talk right, Davie. But my tongue won't do what Dolly wants it to," Clara sputtered. Davie led her to one of the mangers. He parted the straw. That's when Clara say the newborn puppy."

Patricia Polacco has crafted another family story that will give her readers pause to think about the way they treat others, and to learn about the effects of gentle, nurturing care in the course of healing.

Clara and Davie come from a supportive family, but they have a special connection. Davie loves her from the moment he first holds her in his big brother arms. He just knows that she will be strong and courageous. They do everything together:

"Davie taught Clara to climb trees, chase fireflies, jump deep furrows, and throw clods of earth. She would charge up hills as steep as a cow's face and push through bundles of standing wheat. Davie was always at her side."

When she is old enough to go to school, Clara faces teasing about her speech...she has a lisp. She is so upset about being there and the center of such persistent attention that finally she is allowed to learn at home. There she prospers, reading everything medical that she can get in her hands and learning as much as she can. Soon, she is taking care of their family's animal menagerie, and others, with her 'healing hands'.

When Davie falls and breaks both legs badly, her medical knowledge comes in handy. She is quick to give instructions:

"Clara knew exactly what to do. She ordered Davie's bed be brought down to the parlor. She understood that he'd need warmth from the stove and light from the windows."

When the doctor finally arrives he is suitably impressed by Clara's skills. No one is sure that Davie will survive; no one, except Clara. As he has done for her, Clara spends all her time helping her brother. It takes an enormous amount of time and encouragement to ensure complete healing and finally, the ability to walk again. Davie is depressed and reluctant to try until Clara is so distraught she runs from him. Only then does Davie rouse himself to show Clara that her healing gift is real, and loving.

In an author's note, Patricia Polacco tells her audience that young Clara grows up to become 'one of the greatest women of medicine in history - Clara Barton!' She mentions that she is related through marriage to Clara. Archival photos and a skillfully drawn likeness of Clara as an older woman accompany this note. Readers are left to find further information on their own.
Filled with Ms. Polacco's familiar mixed media artwork, her audience is sure to find joy in the siblings and their relationship. The pages are filled with expression and detail, and an understanding of the early life of a medical pioneer who would become the founder of the American Red Cross.  

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