Book Reviews

Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade by Janet Skeslien Charles

“Books are shaped like doors and windows. Both are entries that open to new realms. And to new friends.”

A lover of words, most especially the printed word, and a huge supporter of strong women collaborating to make a difference in the world, “Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade” beautifully encapsulates both these aspects in this novel, which is based on the true story of the American Librarian who changed the literary landscape of France.

What is so poignant about this book, authored by New York Times and international bestselling author, Janet Skeslien Charles, is that it inspired me, (as I am sure it will you), to wonder if I possessed the same depth of character and courage as this international group of women, who were known as CARDS. (American Committee for Devastated France).

Led by Anne Morgan, (daughter and heiress of the famously rich financier J. P. Morgan), and Dr. Anne Murray Dike, this group of women – many of whom received the Croix de Guerre, (the War Cross Medal) for their courage under fire, worked a mere 40 miles from the border, which was under heavy German fire.  Along with helping to rebuild devastated French communities during the 1918 First World War, (also known as the Great War), Jessie Carson, an American librarian who took a leave of absence from the New York Public Library, and was a fearless CARD, is credited for changing “the literary landscape of France,” for her work in establishing access to children’s libraries through monthly bookmobile visits, an occurrence that the French had never seen. Not only does Carson turn any vehicle that has four wheels into bookmobiles, (when the war is over she turns ambulances into moving libraries: “From the ashes of war, the headlights of the bookmobile”), she travels around the minefield-laced landscape to deliver books to people who are isolated and turned inward as a result of the many family losses they’ve endured – husbands, children, homes and material possessions.

“Friends need more than food to survive. They need stories.”

 

Skeslien Charles characters – the bitter Sidonie, the shy Jeanne, the sassy Marcelle, the abrupt Cookie, are such that we become totally invested in their sorrows, their victories and their innocent love flirtations, some of which blossom into bare bones weddings with soldiers  on leave from the front for a mere few days.

Another real life hero profiled in “Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade,” is Mary Breckinridge, who was a driving force in the development of nursing services in rural communities. Inspired by her work with the CARDS, Breckinridge “founded the Frontier Nursing Service in her native Kentucky.”

In fact, in rural areas, nurses rode horseback to tend to patients in remote areas, and by 1930, the Frontier Nursing Service was credited with ensuring safe childbirth in rural Kentucky.

A treasured mention, a delightful nugget that further endured me to Skeslien Charles was her mention of Canada’s favourite and universally loved daughter, “Anne of Green Gables.”

“My sisters speak highly of Anne – seems like she’d be good company,” Tom, Carson’s love interest says.

A parallel storyline to Carson’s is that of NYPL librarian and fledging writer, Wendy Peterson, who in 1987 comes across a reference to Jessie Carson in the archives and becomes obsessed with writing her story.

A lesson in both history and the courage and kindness of the human spirit, “Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade” is sure to leave you inspired and wanting to “do more” long after you’ve turned the page on this uplifting and inspiring story.

Please consider supporting your local independent book store either in-store or online, including: www.blueheronbooks.com; www.novelspot.ca

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Thursday, May 30, 2 p.m.

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Cece is the feature cover writer for several prestigious publications both in print and online, and an informed, connected and enthusiastic book blogger at cecescott.com. Her first book, The Love Story, was published in 2019. Her books, “Nunzio Tumino: A Pocketful of Dreams: An Immigrant’s Journey,” and “Helping People One Hand At A Time” are all available on amazon.ca.
Cece is also working on a book of Daily Pick-Me-Ups for AutoImmune and other Life Warriors, called:
“My Body Parts Are On Recall But I’ve Still Got Gas in my Tank.”
Sign up for a preview of my upcoming book here:  right here, right now.