On Her Own: The Life of Betty Brinn, written by Priscilla Pardini, illustrated by Joanne Scholler Bowring.
Elizabeth A. Brinn Foundation, Elm Grove, WI, 2001.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
In Wisconsin, especially Milwaukee County, Betty Brinn is known for the excellent children’s museum bearing her name. However, not many people know her story, or how her own experiences as an institutionalized, and later a foster child drove her to philanthropy.
The first half of the book focuses on Betty’s birth family and her life in the orphanage. On page 21, she and her sister move to a foster home. Betty was in 17 different foster homes, so this book only focuses on the Stinson family, whom she lived with between ages 13-16. The final pages cover her adult life from struggles to success to her early death from cancer.
This book is ubiquitous at used bookstores near Milwaukee. At one I occasionally visit, there is always a copy on the children’s discount bookshelves, so I picked it up for a dollar. (The paperback retails for $4.50 new.)
I’m glad that I read this because I definitely learned a lot about Betty Brinn’s life and why she was driven to do what she did. However, I also am not sure who to recommend this for. The words and pictures don’t exactly connect to each other. Reading about the author and illustrator, it appears that Priscilla Pardini is an experienced author but had never written for children before, and that really shows in the writing.
There are at least two paragraphs of text in every two-page spread, sometimes more. One two page-spread has seven paragraphs! The text seems to be geared towards a fourth or fifth grade level while the pictures are aimed at a younger audience. The writing is factual but doesn’t really tell a story that engages kids.
Due to the density of the small print, this doesn’t make a good read-aloud. The kids who are drawn to the pictures typically aren’t ready to read such challenging text. And the kids who are able to read the text dismiss it as babyish.
There are some lovely details in the book. The front and back covers have maps of the orphanage and the Stinson’s farm. It certainly gives a comprehensive overview of Betty Brinn’s life. The writing is solid non-fiction. Unfortunately there is a fundamental disconnect between the disparate elements of the book.
If you have interest in Betty Brinn, orphanages, or foster care, then this book may be for you. But I cannot recommend it in general.