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[Nonfiction Wednesday] Frankenstein’s Mother in 2018 Nonfiction Picturebooks

"Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein" and "She Made A Monster"

Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2019 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

There has been quite a preponderance of picturebooks devoted to Mary Shelley and how she birthed Frankenstein. Here are two versions of Mary Shelley’s creative vision and how a stormy evening inspired the creation of one of the classics in science fiction.

The fact that Mary Shelley has always been considered a rebellious woman who ran away from home to be with her married lover adds to the flavour of the storytelling – and makes it perfect for our current reading theme.

She Made A Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

Written by Lynn Fulton Illustrated by Felicita Sala
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers (2018)
ISBN: 0525579605 (ISBN13: 9780525579601)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This was the third version I read of Mary Shelley’s creative process – and as such may have diminished my awe at how Frankenstein came about. The story begins with the setting and the time period, creating an atmospheric vibe that is ominous, but also slightly romantic.

Two hundred years ago, on a wild, stormy night, in a beautiful house on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, a young woman named Mary sat at her dressing table. She and her friends were staying in the house for the season, visiting Lord Byron, the famous English poet.

Unlike the other versions of the story, Lynn Fulton confined herself to this particular time at Lord Byron’s house when five friends came together and decided to write a scary story. Fulton also made just a few references here and there to Mary’s mother, her childhood, and the fact that she learned how to read by tracing the letters on her mother’s tombstone – something that will be mentioned in all of Mary Shelley’s biographies.

In her author’s note, Lynn Fulton made mention of how she fictionalized some aspects of the narrative to make it more exciting. Personally, I found the original story compelling enough without the need to embellish it. Regardless, it was good to sift out the fact from the fictionalized accounts.

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein

Written by Linda Bailey Illustrated by Julia Sarda
Published by Tundra Books (2018)
ISBN: 1770495592 (ISBN13: 9781770495593)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Similar to the earlier version, there is a strong creepy atmospheric vibe to this narrative as befits the Mother of Frankenstein. However, the gothic element seems slightly more mature, more detailed and consequential in this story. Perhaps it is Julia Sarda’s exquisite art, the unusual size of the book, the heaviness of the paper – but the overall effect was significantly more impactful.

The story traces Mary Shelley’s life story narrative, from the time that her mother died when she was only eleven days old, to her often cold and distant father, her cruel stepmother, and the time that she was sent off to live with strangers in Scotland. Mary was described as a “Big Problem” – even more so when she ran away from home and eloped with her married lover, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The ‘married’ part has been edited out in this story, perhaps to ‘protect’ young people’s sensibilities. Regardless, the Author’s Note here is deliciously detailed and narrated so well that it seems like Linda Bailey is sharing her insights in a campfire story.

What I found to be particularly fascinating with Frankenstein’s birth is how it was inspired by being among like-minded individuals, who lived by their own rules and defied social conventions. It is no wonder that something as timeless as Frankenstein would be born.

I am also now a huge fan of Julia Sarda’s art. I would be on the lookout for more of her picturebooks in the future. Her style reminded me somewhat of another Spanish artist, Ana Juan, with the dark hues and the gothic vibe and the irrepressible spirit. Needless to say, this is one of my favourite versions.

I would also strongly recommend to pair these books with Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge – which I do feel is the definitive version of Mary Shelley’s story (see my review).

#WomenReadWomen2019: 11 of 25Felicita Sala is from Italy

Linda Bailey is from Canada and Julia Sarda is from Spain | Lynn Fulton is from the USA.

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1 comment on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Frankenstein’s Mother in 2018 Nonfiction Picturebooks

  1. It’s hard to believe that there are so many about Mary Shelley. I have read this first one, and also Mary’s Monster, one I also believe gives the full story. Will find Bailey’s, too, if for no other reason but to see that art. It does look wonderful, Myra. Thanks, not sure I knew about this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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