HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Youngest General: A Story of Lafayette
Author: Fruma Gottschalk
Illustrator: Rafaello Busoni
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1949
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 8-12
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Gottschalk, Fruma. The Youngest General: A Story of Lafayette (published in 1949 by Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York City, NY). Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), as a boy called Gilbert and in the U.S. often known simply as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought for the United States in the American Revolutionary War. Born at Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France, Lafayette came from a wealthy landowning family. His father was killed in battle when Gilbert was two. His mother left him in the care of his paternal grandmother and aunts while she returned to Paris, but sent for him when he was eleven to come to school in Paris. Shortly after that, both his mother and her father died, and he was left in the care of his maternal great-grandfather. He followed his family’s martial tradition, and was commissioned an officer at age thirteen. According to the customs of the French nobility at that time, he married Adrienne de Noailes when he was sixteen and a half and she was fourteen.
Lafayette became convinced that the American cause in its revolutionary war was noble, and travelled to the New World to participate in it. There, he was made a major general, though initially the 19-year-old was not given any troops to command. Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he still managed to organize an orderly retreat. In 1781, troops in Virginia under his command blocked forces led by Cornwallis until other American and French forces could position themselves for the decisive Siege of Yorktown. A close friend of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789, though opposed by the radicals, and the Napoleonic era. He died in 1834, and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil from Bunker Hill. For his accomplishments in the service of both France and the United States, he is sometimes known as “The Hero of the Two Worlds.”
The Youngest General is an excellent example of the kind of well-written, easy-to-read biographies for young people that were produced in previous generations and were among my reading repertoire when I was growing up in the 1960s. It is too bad that many of them are no longer available. A lot of the more recent biographies for children that I have read, even the good ones, seem to lack the charm and grace of the older ones. There are a few references to dancing, drinking wine, and the snuff box of Lafayette’s mother-in-law, but no major objectionable material. This story of the youngest general in the U. S. Revolutionary War focuses on the young Lafayette, starting with his childhood, the early succession to a title, the school days in Paris, his love for Adrienne, and training for life of a military, and goes on to his acceptance by the American leaders as a dashing young officer bringing promise of intervention and help from the old world. The story basically ends there, with only a glimpse into his future in his own troubled country. However, a timeline with “Years of Lafayette’s Life” carries his story down to his death.