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Who in the World Was the Acrobatic Empress? The Story of Theodora Review by Kendra Fletcher

Robin Phillips
IllustratorJeff West
Peace Hill Press
18021 The Glebe Lane
Charles City, VA 23030

Have you noticed the great dearth of biographies covering the lives of less-popular historical figures for the elementary student? My county library carries 22 different biographies about pop icon Britney Spears and exactly two about the Empress Theodora. As you might suspect, both copies are written for adults.

Enter Peace Hill Press. The company that publishes Jessie Wise's and Susan Wise Bauer's groundbreaking books on classical education (such as The Well Trained Mind and The Story of the World) has nobly taken on the task of filling this great gap in children's publishing. Their Who in the World biographies cover important historical figures such as Amerigo Vespucci, Johannes Gutenberg, Ethelred, and Theodora.

Who in the World Was the Acrobatic Empress? The Story of Theodora was written especially for ages 5-12. Its seven short chapters cover Theodora's childhood as an acrobat in Constantinople's sixth-century Hippodrome, her scheming to marry the future emperor, Justinian, and her years as Empress at his side. It is written in an easy-to-manage style. A five-year-old will have no problem understanding the text if being read to, and a strong reader will have no problem reading the text for himself.

If you are using The Story of the World as your history spine, you will find that this biography coordinates with The Story of the World, Volume 2: The Middle Ages. The first page of the biography gives a brief summary of the book's contents. There is also a map of the Byzantine Empire and both a bibliography and an index in the back.

But even if you are not using The Story of the World, you may find Who in the World Was the Acrobatic Empress? The Story of Theodora a nice addition to your home history library. The book retails for $9.50 on the Peace Hill Press website and comes in paperback with a sturdy cover.

Although I liked this particular Who in the World biography, I was not terribly drawn to its illustrations. For a book geared toward an elementary audience, I felt the cartoon illustrations were at times sensual, even sexy. Ugh! Not what I would prefer for my youngest readers. I'm not sure what the publishers were trying to communicate by presenting Theodora and the other characters in the story this way, but I do hope they'll consider their target audience a little better for future volumes.

Product review by Kendra Fletcher, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2006