Whether you’re an adult or a child, this new picture book biography gives an informed overview of intriguing nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale. It’s not a surprising subject choice for gifted author-illustrator Demi (born Charlotte Dumaresq Hunt, nicknamed by her father because she was half the size of her older sister). Demi is well known for her biographies of historical and spiritual figures, as well as her fairy tales, folk tales and stately art.
Florence was born into a wealthy British family in 1820, but from the start “would imagine running a hospital and made detailed lists and charts of all the medicine, equipment, and expenses.” As Florence grew older, she felt that God wanted her to help people through nursing, even though the idea “horrified” her parents. She learned all she could and used her observations and extraordinary experiences to revolutionize medical care in army hospitals. While in the Crimea, she contracted a fever that left her weak for the rest of her life, but she doggedly continued her work from her bed.
As always, Demi’s illustrations are outstanding. They’re simple and spare, yet bursting with strategically placed bursts of color and pattern that enrich each and every page. Demi gives us glimpses of Florence’s elegant family life, filled with estates, carriages, fancy parties, stylish clothes and furnishings. She also conveys the immense suffering of rows of soldiers lying in a dilapidated hall filled with scurrying rodents. Her artwork deftly manages to contrast these two very different worlds in a unified fashion, rounded out with a nicely detailed timeline and suggestions for further reading.