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Book Review: Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Peace Prize by Kathy-Jo Wargin, Illustrated by Zachary Pullen

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The 2009 Nobel Prize announcements are still fresh in our memories. With this year’s surprising choice of President Obama as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the time is ripe to share the history of the Peace Prize with our children. Whether taught in a social studies/current events setting or around the kitchen table at dinner, Alfred Nobel’s name is now much more closely associated with his prizes than it is with the invention of dynamite.

In January of this year, Sleeping Bear Press released Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Peace Prize to familiarize young readers with Nobel’s life: his love for literature, poetry, the sciences, and mankind, and the bequeathal that continues to finance the prizes to this day — over 100 years later.

Multi-genre children’s author Kathy-Jo Wargin turns her accomplished pen (over 30 children’s titles) to the task of relating Nobel’s life and accomplishments to primary-aged readers. Using vivid, action filled prose; Wargin deftly sculpts the emotional contours of Nobel’s life, clearly displaying his idealism, work-ethic, and loneliness despite his great wealth.

Following Nobel through his early experiments with nitroglycerin, his blasting-cap explosive model, the loss of his brother Emil and four workers in a workshop accident, the search for a safer form of explosive, the invention of dynamite, his fame, and death, children will be equipped with a solid peg upon which to hang further knowledge about Nobel’s life and the prizes as they grow.

Zachary Pullen’s rich, detailed oil paintings straddle the divide between portrait and caricature, as Nobel’s larger-than-life facial expressions dominate many of the pages. Wide-eyed-wonder, intense concentration, studious, and reflective; Nobel fills the carefully arranged pages to bursting. Pullen’s supplementary “scientific notes” illustrate the simple operation of Nobel’s nitroglycerin explosive with blasting cap, and his safer compound — dynamite.

Intended for peaceful use in the construction industry but appropriated as weaponry, the invention he hoped would prevent wars by displaying the mighty destructive power in explosives only spurred further violence. His consequent public portrayal as a man who benefited financially from war and death grieved him, and no doubt gave rise to the establishment of the Peace Prize.

After reading Alfred Nobel through with my children, my six-year-old instantly asked for a repeat reading. She also pestered me to read the complete list of Nobel Peace Prize recipients from 1901 — 2008 aloud to her. Simply presented as a list, I was surprised that those who’d received the prize so captivated her, but she insisted, swept into Nobel’s vision of a better world.

Sleeping Bear Press’ free downloadable teaching guide for this title includes activities in geography, science, math, language arts, social studies, and more, making Alfred Nobel the base for a comprehensive unit study revolving around the Peace Prizes, and issues of social responsibility.

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About Jennifer Bogart

  • http://www.booksplurge.blogspot.com CeeCee

    This sounds like a book I’d enjoy.

  • John Lake

    Its a pleasure to read a thoughtful well written piece.