In a sumptuous picture book biography, author Mara Rockliff and illustrator Iacopo Bruno give us the life of Adelaide Scarcez Herrmann, a real person who lived from 1853 to 1932. During her 79 years, she was an actress, a dancer, a vaudevillian, and she was shot out of a cannon. As the title says, she was Anything but Ordinary Addie. In 1875, Addie married Alexander Herrmann, a magician, and became his assistant. They added other acts to their show and traveled the world as Herrmann the Great. When Alexander died of heart failure in 1896, at age 52, Addie decided to carry on as the magician in the act. A female magician was uncommon, so her first solo show included a daring and dangerous magical feat. It was good enough to keep her on vaudeville stages as Madame Herrmann for 25 years. She kept performing until she was 75. Four years later, she passed away and out of memory.
In the Author’s Note, Rockliff laments that “Generations of girls grew up thinking all the great magicians had been men.” With a daughter interested in magic, Rockliff says “This project started when I went looking for a biography of a woman stage magician for my daughter and found to my dismay that none existed.” She began researching women magicians and ran across a very interesting research story. (Yes, I think you should read this in her book.)
It’s an inspiring story appropriate for children. It doesn’t include the financial ups and downs of the Herrmanns, focusing instead on Addie’s successes. A determined little girl and woman, she accomplished admirable feats, including The Bullet-Catching Trick. Although the book shares the highlights of her career, I’m intrigued to find out more. Other readers will be as well. Isn’t that what we want out of a good book?
Iacopo Bruno’s illustrations are richly colored with glowing elements that light the pages much as footlights would light a stage. Addie’s costumes and hair adornments are period-perfect. Even the lettering on the handbills and posters transports readers to the Gilded Age era. Bruno has a curious way of providing depth to his illustrations by surrounding people and objects in the foreground with a thick, white border, almost as though they were cut out of paper. It’s a style that grew on me. It adds focus to the page, directing the reader’s eye to truly see what’s on the page.
I’d recommend this book for school libraries, classrooms, and for homes where magic and accomplished women are interests.