Wednesday, September 24, 2014

DFN Explanation: The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Read: 68 of253
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Released: July 8, 2014

I'm a big fan of historical fiction, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when historical fiction authors make stuff up.

I know, I know, it's fiction, but I still can't stand it.

So I set an especially high bar for a NON-fiction book like The Family Romanov being, you know, historically accurate.

So what do you get with The Family Romanov?

On the positive side, there's the short chapters, easy-breezy writing, and engaging narrative. This book is so very easy to read. I adore the structure of tiny sub-chapters with big descriptive headings (makes it SO easy to say "just one more") and I flew through 68 pages in about a half hour, which is amazing for me because I am a slooooow reader.

Then again, the writing style is also almost offensively dumbed down. I get it, this book is aimed at kids, but last I checked kids are not morons. Even books that are undoubtedly Made For Kids like the Royal Diaries series aren't written with the condescending pat on the head tone used in The Family Romanov.

There's also a surprising lack of historical detail. Sure there's talk about events (kinda, sorta, mostly glossed over), and there's of course a lot of focus on the Romanov family (a little, shallowly), but there's very little to actually make me feel like I'm living in that time period and knowing any of the people. It's all very thinly described, and, again, I know it's aimed at kids, but, again, Kristiana Gregory didn't let that stop her

And then there's the bias. Historical fiction for sure comes with bias because they're usually written as first person narratives. Non-fiction, on the other hand, is supposed to provide a more objective, unemotional recounting of Facts.

Non-fiction books like The Family Romanov, which covers both the royal family and the citizens of Russia, are supposed to be the ultimate in providing facts and perspectives from all sides of a situation.

"Supposed to" being the key words there. The majority of historical fiction books I've read, including all those very emotional first person narratives, have more of an unbiased approach than The Family Romanov.

Combine the heavy bias with the "children must be imbeciles" approach and The Family Romanov reads like one big bash fest on the Baddies and love fest for the pure, innocent Goodies. Anyone even remotely familiar with the Russian Revolution knows that's not quite the case and there's a lot more depth to the conflict than a simplistic Good Guys versus Bad Guys.

Which brings me to the next travesty: historical inaccuracy.

Yes, you read that right. 

The oversimplification and heavy bias resulted in a narrative that left out huge, gigantic, very important pieces of information, which totally skews a reader's understanding of the time (even things as basic as fleas!). Now, technically, what's written isn't false, but it's pretty much like lying by omission.

Readers hoping to use The Family Romanov as their first substantive look into the Russian Revolution (you know, the targeted audience for this book) will come away with a really warped, inaccurate, and swiss-cheesy interpretation of events.

Bottom line

Not only pass, but auto-banning this author.



  1. Ugh, I hate it when authors are condescending in children's books. They understand you just fine when you write normally, there is no reason to be all high and mighty about it.

  2. Why do authors oversimplify things for kids?! I actually feel children today are way more knowledgeable than back when I was a kid (probably because of the Internet) and authors need to not dumb things down when writing for that target audience.

  3. Yet another example of how writers sometimes have no clue about their targeted audiences. Why even bother writing for kids if you're just going to dumb it down for them?

  4. Bipass + auto author ban = not for me! Sorry this one didn't set well with you. I know what you mean about dumbing down the story for younger readers, some authors can pull it off others, not so much. I don't think this story has enough to draw me in. Thanks for the DNF explanation, I always enjoy seeing what didn't work out.

  5. Hi, thank you for this interesting review. You clearly have a passion for literature, and better still, you do a good job of sharing your passion with your readers. My middle school students are studying The Family Romanov right now, and while we are enjoying Candace Fleming's "easy-breezy" style, we also have been detecting some bias in her portrayal of certain individuals (Rasputin!). But my students have a little problem. You see, we also have been studying the importance of supporting claims with examples and references to the text. In your review, you make some bold claims about the quality of Fleming's writing and about her biases of omission, but you do not provide a single example to support any of your claims. We're curious about the "huge, gigantic" omissions that "totally [skew] a reader's understanding." We'd also like some examples of Fleming's "condescending pat on the head tone." Could you please give some examples to support your claims? Thanks.

    1. Hi Anonymous! Glad you enjoyed the review. I love that you're teaching about references. I hope you and your students do realize this review site is for a reflection of my personal responses to the books I read, so there won't be any sources cited. I wish I could help point you in the direction of some, but I think my sources are probably not suited for middle school readers and I'm personally less familiar with middle school aged books in this genre.

      As for examples of the tone, I wish I could help there too, but this review is over a year and a half old and I no longer have the book. I hope you're able to find some less biased books to share with your students!

  6. Look, I know everybody has different opinions, but I totally disagree with this review. The author does not oversimplify things. I'm take Honors English 8 and I've already read books that are on AP English 12 reading lists, so this is saying something. Sure, it's not that difficult to read. However, it's not as easy as whoever wrote this article makes it seem. The author does need to explain who these characters are. Also, this book was aimed for people who already know a little about the Russian Revolution. Just a little, not too much. Most books glorify the Romanov family so the author made this book a little more on the bad side. You could think of that as bias. It is a good book, though. Not every book is perfect or amazing, and this book isn't one of them. It has its flaws (maybe it doesn't include everything in this time period) but it isn't terrible either. Also, nonfiction isn't necessarily written so you can feel what is going on in the book, so you can imagine it. It is written to inform. The book has informed us about the Russian Revolution, so it has gone further in completing its tasks.

    1. BTW, this review has some merit. I'm not trying to completely downgrade it


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