Unfading Beauty by Tracy M. Leininger is a sort of Christian American Girl book telling the story of Dolley Madison, wife of the fourth president of the United States, James Madison.
Leininger begins with Dolley's childhood, telling us in story form about her Quaker upbringing during the American Revolution. When soldiers approach her father's plantation, Dolley fears they'll steal some jewelry she doesn't wear due to her religion, but keeps hidden as a treasure in her dresser drawer. It turns out the soldiers are American and her parents agree to give them what they can to feed and clothe the volunteers that winter. Dolley remembers Christ's teaching on giving and on keeping your treasures in heaven, not on earth.
In the next chapter, Dolley is older; as she passes the Independence Hall, she witnesses Benjamin Franklin announce what sort of nation American will become: "We have given you a republic, if you can keep it," she overhears Franklin say. But while Dolley is excited about her new nation, her father lays dying. He wants to see her married, so Dolley agrees in order to please her father. She weds a young lawyer who dies of yellow fever only three years later, leaving her alone with a toddler. During this time, Dolley "grew daily in her love for the Lord, and for the first time in her life, she realized that He was her sole source of strength and hope."
Later, Congressman James Madison courts her, and asks her to marry him. He's older than she is, and quite short, but Dolley loves his faith and his service to others. To her, he lives up to his nickname "great little Madison." As she considers his proposal, she suddenly feels "God's divine peace" fill her heart. She agrees to marry him.
Soon enough, Dolley becomes First Lady, and uses her talent for putting people at ease to good use entertaining in the nation's capital. She even graciously invites her husband's political enemies to the President's events. Later, when the U.S. goes to war with Britain and the Redcoats invade Washington, Dolley rescues some of America's great treasures - including the original Declaration of Independence and a portrait of George Washington - from their hands. As it turns out, a sudden storm (an act of Providence, Dolley thinks) makes the British flee and soon the U.S. has won the war.
The author concludes by telling us how Dolley lived out her remaining days quietly, always being a servant to others. "Dolley had learned the joy of service to others and the true value of unfading beauty."
What I Like: I believe it's vital parents teach their children American history. Generally, our schools omit not only the strong religious background behind the creation of our nation, but also the reasons why the Founding Fathers chose a republic. When Americans don't understand these basic tenants, we are apt to seek more restrictive forms of government. Unfading Beauty does a nice job of including some basic information about the founding of our nation and how it was maintained in it's early years. But more than that, it does a nice job of showing how one woman allowed God to use her in ways her modest upbringing could never have prepared her for. Emphasis is placed on Dolley's servant heart and kindness to everyone.
What I Dislike: This book presumes readers have a basic understanding of the founding of the United States. I wish, instead, the author took the time to briefly explain some things. For example, we never read what the American Revolution is about or what the Constitution is, even though both are mentioned. In addition, Dolley's "mammy" is referred to as a servant at one point (though later the author mentions that Dolley's father freed all his slaves) and at one point the author calls the United States "Colonial America," even though the year is 1794 and the U.S. was under the leadership of President Washington. Great emphasis is put on the fact that Quakers, like Dolley's family, don't fight wars, yet the author fails to mention that despite this, Dolley's father did fight in the Revolutionary War.
The illustrations by Kelly Pulley and Lisa Reed (there are eight full color, full page pictures in this 64 page book) are fine, although the illustrators aren't especially talented with the human face. Also, throughout the book, they show Dolley with reddish brown hair, even though the text correctly states her hair was black. Finally, the author does a bit more telling (rather than showing) than she should. Clearly, it's difficult to compress Dolley Madison's life into a short children's book, but another author could have done a better job.
Overall Rating: Despite the flaws in this book, my three year old enjoys hearing the story and looking at the illustrations. And since it's difficult to find books like this for the Christian market, and Dolley is strongly showed as a strong Christian woman, I give this book a rating of Very Good.
Age Appeal: 6 - 12.
Publisher Info: His Seasons, 2003; ISBN: 1929241208; hardback; $15.99