Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Chapter Books - Catherine: The Great Journey

Catherine: The Great Journey by Kristiana Gregory 2005

One of the things I really liked about 5th and 6th grade (and I didn’t like much) was the collection of biographies they used to carry in my school library. Most of the biographies of the time were mainly of men, with the occasional notable female. I didn’t mind reading about men, but I do like the more balance in gender variety they have nowadays. I think if I were of that age again, I would also really like this trend of fictional “diary” formats as well. Although this new style is not a traditional non fiction biography, I like how they blend fiction with historical events. Plus, most of these “diary” formats include a subsequent section with actual facts about the time period. I have recently come upon a number of these diary formats, but the one I just read that reminded me most of a biography was that of Scholastics, The Royal Diaries. With Catherine: The Great Journey I found it provided an insight into Russia and Prussia’s history that I had not previously heard. I was aware of Catherine and that the Hermitage was created under her direction, but that was about it.

The story starts when Catherine was still named Sophie and living in Prussia in 1743. This is where we learn her fate is to be betrothed to the next in line to Russia’s throne. From here we follow her “thoughts” and the life she must lead for the next two years to become ready to be Charles-Peter’s wife while both are still teenagers and later to be Emperors’ of Russia. She must live according to the current Empresses’ rules, religion, politics, and whims. Even though Catherine’s thoughts are fictionalized, there is a ring of truth about them. The author appears to have also relied upon many of the documents of the time and Catherine’s numerous own personal papers.

Although this series is heavily marketed and has a number of other series in competition with it, I think the fact the books in The Royal Diaries series are based on real women gives them the edge. If you have someone who likes biographies I would recommend these books to them and vice versa. Catherine: The Great Journey was a quick read as an adult, but would probably take a little longer for a younger reader. Good choice for ages 10 and up.


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