From School Library Journal
Grade 2-5–This ambitious attempt to present the life and thinking of this ancient Greek philosopher to young readers does so with mixed results. The text has two tiers. The first layer (presented in a larger font) is, according to the book jacket, quite simple, while the second (presented in smaller print in a scroll-shaped box) is full of juicy additional details. Both sections contain statements that are oversimplifications of complex ideas and require further background or explanation. In one particularly confusing section of the book, the first tier states that Apollo, god of wisdom, loved Socrates dearly. 'No one is as wise, or good, or brave as he,' Apollo said. The other gods agreed. The line between Socrates's beliefs and fact is blurred here and elsewhere. There are, however, many instances where Usher distills the essence of Socrates's thinking into approachable terms, such as in his discussion that compares the idea of the blueprint for a bed to a blueprint for larger concepts: Just as a carpenter with vast knowledge and experience can make a good bed, and in turn be a good carpenter, a person who has studied the blueprint of right and wrong can be a good person. With the exception of some fictionalizing in terms of his subject's childhood, Usher has been careful to use documented sources, and the writing style itself flows reasonably well. Bramhall's amusing cartoons greatly enliven the presentation. Anyone wishing to introduce the field of philosophy to students would find this offering a useful starting point.–Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ
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Gr. 2-4. This cheerful picture-book biography of Socrates has two concurrent texts: the story of his life, which is freely fictionalized and unconvincing in its description of the early years, and, in smaller print, an introduction to the philosopher's ideas, which is actually quite good. As Usher states in the appended notes, "Socrates' adult interests have been imaginatively read back into his youth." The result is a child character who sounds utterly unchildlike. In a sudden growth spurt shown in the illustrations but unexplained in the text, Socrates grows from a scruffy child on one double-page spread to a scruffy man on the next. The accessible style of the sophisticated ink-and-watercolor artwork is reminiscent of that of a cartoonist or caricaturist. And on the closing pages, there are
caricatures of later thinkers, from Erasmus to Gandhi, who comment on Socrates. A note on sources and a short bibliography (labeled "For Further Reading" but clearly aimed at adults) are appended as well. Parents who can't wait to introduce their elementary-school progeny to Socrates will find this an original, but not wholly successful, choice. Carolyn PhelanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved