The ill-fated queen of France takes center stage in a beginner’s biography.
As a subject of a biography for preschoolers and early-elementary readers, Marie Antoinette, a woman who is known for the probably apocryphal “Let them eat cake!” and for her execution by guillotine during the French Revolution, is a curious choice. Berenger (not a person but a French media collective) introduces her as an Austrian princess married off to a French prince as part of a peace negotiation. At 18, she is crowned at Reims with her husband, Louis XVI, and she proceeds to “insist on the finest of everything….She hired hairdressers to change her hairstyle every day!” But “meanwhile, many people in France were poor and starving,” so “they decided to overthrow their king and queen!” The hopelessly simplistic account proceeds through the royal couple’s imprisonment, Louis’ execution (framed by the guillotine, he looks worriedly out at readers), the confiscation of her son, and her trial (depicted) and execution (not). Backmatter includes further information, which mostly muddies the waters rather than clearing them, introducing Robespierre and the Reign of Terror in a three-sentence thumbnail and presenting a complicated map of Europe that may be of more use to the volume’s original French readers than to North American ones. The bobbleheaded cartoons, all white, look by turns happy, anxious, and angry; they are at all times vapid. Companion title Buddha is equally inadequate.
Laughably undercontextualized and not particularly interesting, despite the decapitations. (Picture book/biography. 4-7)