Earlier this year, I made a commitment to the 2012 Tudor Reading Challenge, issued by the The Musings of Almybnenr. The idea was that I would blog about all of the Tudor books I read, just as soon as I finished my copy. I am, obviously, woefully behind in posting my reviews. I have finished numerous Tudor books – the process of editing and checking citations for Susan’s upcoming release, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, naturally meant that I went through dozens of books and articles earlier in the year. However, I wanted to spice things up a bit for the challenge. Instead of just blogging about the major Tudor biographies and historical novels that so many of us know and love, I wanted to introduce readers to books, manuscripts, and comic books (yes, comic books!) featuring the Tudors that are not widely known.
Therefore, to kick-off the challenge, I’m reviewing a child’s ABC book that I found three years ago at ye olde Ohio Renaissance Faire. A Ren Faire is not only one’s yearly opportunity to look kingly with a gigantic turkey leg, it is also a wonderful place to find kitschy books that don’t normally pop-up in the neighborhood bookstore. I was delighted to find The Queen’s Progress: An Elizabethan Alphabet by Celeste Davidson Mannis while on a road trip with friends. At the time, I was in graduate school and had no plans for children in my immediate future – I just wanted the book because the illustrations were beautiful (perhaps if I had consulted the Faire’s Dr. Dee on my stars, I would have left with a different outlook on the next year).
At any rate, I have a toddler today, and am thus justified in owning a child’s Elizabethan ABC book. He loves to read books with me, and he has his staple favorites. Occasionally, however, One Foot, Two Feet must be put away for Mama’s sanity. It is at such times that I pull out The Queen’s Progress. The best thing about this book is that it basically allows the child to grow up with the book. For each letter, a simple four-line rhyme is provided. E, for example:
E is for England,
isle of our story.
Its green hills and dales
are Elizabeth’s glory.
This is perfect reading for a small child with a short attention span. As the child grows older, however, he or she can read the paragraph-long history lessons that come with each letter. For E, the child learns that
England’s lush green countryside beckoned to the queen, and she never tired of exploring it. Coordinating the queen’s progress, however, was an exhausting job. Elizabeth changed her plans constantly. Sometimes she veered from her route to make unscheduled visits. At other times she decided to skip a stay that had been painstakingly planned months ahead of time. Each new change of plans was met with frenzied rescheduling and rerouting by the queen’s men.
In this manner, a history of Elizabeth’s progresses unfolds. Letter by letter, children learn about the purpose of the royal progress, Elizabeth’s background, and 16th century England. Additionally, while Elizabeth is the central figure in the story, the tale also follows a jester, a page, and a maid who manage to save the Queen’s life from assassins. Adventurous children will be drawn to this element of danger within the story, while others will enjoy the romanticism surrounding a court on progress.
Finally, I cannot give a review of this book without raving over the beautiful illustrations – it was the reason I purchased The Queen’s Progress, after all. The artist, Bagram Ibatoulline, has an eye for detail, and each image is richly drawn. The fabrics of Elizabeth’s dresses, for example, are mesmerizing. Due to tiny demands, I no longer get to look at each image as long as I wish, but sometimes I pick up the book to flip through on my own when I have a minute to spare.
A warning, however, to those who might consider purchasing this for a small child – it is not a cardboard book, so it runs the risk of being ripped by eager little hands. The larger-than-normal size of the book is a plus, though, as there are lots of small details to explore. Final conclusion: pick this gem up if you have the chance, you won’t regret it.