Image: A large monster with grey skin holds a candle while a smaller woman with white skin and auburn hair sits next to him writing. Text: "Mary, Who Wrote Frankenstein. Written by Linda Bailey. Illustrated by Júlia Sardà."

KidLit Book Review: Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and Júlia Sardà


Synopsis

How does a story begin? Sometimes it begins with a dream, and a dreamer. Mary is one such dreamer, a little girl who learns to read by tracing the letters on the tombstone of her famous feminist mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and whose only escape from her strict father and overbearing stepmother is through the stories she reads and imagines. Unhappy at home, she seeks independence, and at the age of sixteen runs away with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, another dreamer. Two years later, they travel to Switzerland where they meet a famous poet, Lord Byron. On a stormy summer evening, with five young people gathered around a fire, Byron suggests a contest to see who can create the best ghost story. Mary has a waking dream about a monster come to life. A year and a half later, Mary Shelley’s terrifying tale, Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus, is published—a novel that goes on to become the most enduring monster story ever and one of the most popular legends of all time.


Details

  • Title: Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein
  • Author: Linda Bailey
  • Illustrator: Júlia Sardà
  • Cover Artists: Júlia Sardà, illustration; Júlia Sardà and John Martz, design
  • Publisher: Tundra Books
  • ISBN: 1770495592
  • Publication Date: August 28, 2018
  • For Ages: 5-8
  • Category: Picture Book
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.

I’d like to thank Tundra Books for providing a copy via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.


Review

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is not just an ode to Mary Shelley’s talent, creativity, and fierce individuality; it is also a meditation on artistic inspiration and a fine introduction to the captivating story behind the story of the famous doctor and his monster. It brings Shelley out of the pages of history and makes her a relatable, sympathetic figure who shows kids that having your head in the clouds and pursuing your dreams is a wonderful thing, no matter what your age is.

Image: Two illustrations. Left: A snake curls around text that reads, "How does a story begin? Sometimes it begins with a dream." Right: A young girl with white skin and auburn hair wears a blue dress and lies on a bed holding a book.
Image: Two illustrations. Left: A snake curls around text that reads, “How does a story begin? Sometimes it begins with a dream.” Right: A young girl with white skin and auburn hair wears a blue dress and lies on a bed holding a book.

Júlia Sardà’s magnificent art plays with proportion and perspective to create a constant sense of looming. The often tragic circumstances of Mary’s life loom over her in contemplative moments where her small figure risks being swallowed whole by gloomy landscapes. However, Mary’s will, talent, and imagination shine through as Frankenstein waits to be written; an electric sense of looming destiny permeates the book, lending a thrilling sense of suspense to a well-known story. The dark, rich color palette further evokes the stormy and passionate soul of Mary Shelley and her most famous work.

Layered patterns and textures create a deliberate flatness that leaves little room to breathe, but each claustrophobic design creates a different effect — a scene where young Mary deals with her father and new stepmother feels oppressively lonely, whereas the scene of the famous night when Byron suggests the scary story contest feels exhilarating and kinetic. Sardà’s landscapes are her most eerily dynamic illustrations, proving that the air itself is indeed filled with monsters.

Image: An illustration of a grey house sitting in a dark wooded area next to a lake. The sky is black with white cloudy monsters in it.
Image: An illustration of a grey house sitting in a dark wooded area next to a lake. The sky is black with white cloudy monsters in it.

The thematic interplay between Linda Bailey’s text and Sardà’s art is breathtaking. They set up a biographical symmetry between the illustrations — compare, for example, the image of young Mary lying in bed and daydreaming about stories with the image of (barely) adult Mary bolting upright in bed as the idea for Frankenstein comes to her. These artful parallels of formative moments in Shelley’s life underscore the confluence of inspiration and talent that led to the creation of one of history’s most enduring novels.

Image: An illustration of a young woman with white skin and auburn hair sitting up in bed with wide eyes. A giant monster with green skin bends over the headboard and looks at her.
Image: An illustration of a young woman with white skin and auburn hair sitting up in bed with wide eyes. A giant monster with green skin bends over the headboard and looks at her.

Sophisticated yet age-appropriate, Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is an engrossing picture book about the young woman who wrote one of the world’s most popular stories. The audience will be inspired by her life and by the brilliant artwork illuminating it. This is a terrific book for young readers, whether they be aspiring writers and artists, budding horror and science fiction fans, or kids who need to hear that it’s okay to carve your own path and follow your dreams. That’s how stories begin, after all: with a dreamer.


Rating

I can’t give this art anything less than 5 out of 5 coffins.

5 Coffins


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