I requested the title Martin Luther for review because I have a 10-year-old homeschooler with whom I planned to share and co-review the book. We both recommend it highly. Upon receiving it, I left the unopened book on the breakfast bar, and before I knew it, the text and images had drawn my daughter halfway through the book. She read the entire thing with interest in a couple sittings (though she probably would have read the whole thing at once if we hadn’t had other priorities for the day), and continued to tell me bits of Luther trivia she had learned from the book for the next few days. This 2016 biography is, apparently, one in a series on key Reformers published by Reformation Heritage Books, and we are eager (“extremely eager,” she says) to read some of the others.
Author Simonetta Carr covers the broader context of Luther’s world in explaining elements such as home life in Germany, schooling, Catholicism in the early 1500’s, and the early Reformation. She highlights important places in Luther’s life, such as the Erfurt monastery, the seminary in Wittenberg, the castle of Fredrick the Wise, and the abandoned monastery where Luther and Katherine von Bora raised their children and welcomed many guests. Photographs of most of these places appear in the book, as do older paintings, sketches, woodcuts, or statues of key players, such as Pope Leo X, Johann Tetzel, Phillip Melanchthon, Fredrick the Wise, Charles V, and even Luther’s daughter Magdalene.
Carr gives details of Luther’s life from childhood to monk to Reformation leader in measured and appropriate amounts. The story flows and makes sense but does not drag as she explains about Luther’s search for spiritual peace and freedom from guilt, his desire to discuss his 95 theses, his many writings, his excommunication, the Diet of Worms, and his fake kidnapping.
The story continues to tell of his time in hiding at Wartburg castle and translation of the New Testament, his return to Wittenberg to help stem the violence Karlstadt approved, his marriage to von Bora and their work among the ill in Wittenberg, and their large family. Carr mentions the many writings of Luther at their appropriate places in the story but does not provide too much detail on them. After covering Luther’s death and burial, she also provides a section with extra facts and trivia about Luther and elements related to his life, such as all the industry Katie supervised in their home, Luther quotes, additional information about key players, and even an explanation of the Luther rose.
Overall, Martin Luther (Christian Biographies for Young Readers) provides an excellent overview of the life of an important historical and church figure. The reading level is probably most appropriate for independent reading at grade level 4-6 (my daughter says 3-6). The book should probably be read aloud to younger children in multiple sittings. The material is divided into seven chapters with clear, memorable titles, each containing about two items of beautiful new artwork per chapter. The chapters also include many images of people, places, maps, or historical artifacts. Carr also does an excellent job of explaining how the gospel was the driving force of Luther’s work, undoubtedly a significant element in the seismic changes brought about during and by the Reformation. Her treatment is faith-affirming and age appropriate for children with at least some religious background. My daughter also noted that another lesson of the book was that the Pope can be wrong, and consequently, that not all “Christian leaders” will be correct. (And as a side note, in the “Did you know?” section at the end, Carr uses strong language to dismiss Luther’s anti-Semitism in his writings as simply unacceptable. Children deserve to be exposed to the idea that people can be admirable in some respects but not in others.) Young female readers will appreciate Carr’s explanations of how much Luther came to love and depend on his wife Katie, and what a strong woman she was in her own right. My daughter and I give Carr’s Martin Luther five stars!