Review: Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan

queen victorias bathing machine

Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Queen Victoria longs to get out of the heat of the summer as well as her itchy clothes and tight corset and just be able to swim in the sea.  But her lady-in-waiting collapses even considering the scandal that could take place if someone were to see the queen before she reached the water!  The queen gives up the idea, realizing that there is no way that she could be properly dressed and still able to swim.  Prince Albert though wants to try to figure out a way to get his beloved wife into the water.  Albert came up with many ideas, but none of them worked.  Then he struck upon a wonderful idea, a wheeled wooden cart that could be pulled right into the water.  This true story of a queen who wanted a touch of freedom ends with an image of the restored bathing machine that is now on the Isle of Wight in England. 

Whelan takes a wonderfully playful look at solving the queen’s swimming problems.  She makes sure that at the base of the entire story is the adoration between Albert and Victoria, a rich love story even though they were monarchs and parents.  Cleverly having a fainting lady-in-waiting who is the voice of propriety in the book helps children understand the expectations of decorum in a previous day.  Whelan writes in a free rhyming verse here, the looseness of the poems feel simple by belie that skill that it takes to write in this style.

Carpenter’s illustrations also have a sprightly humor to them.  They also celebrate the love of the two historical figures.  Perhaps the most joyful images are Victoria finally able to swim and cavort in the water.  Or maybe it is the final illustration where Victoria is happily held in Albert’s arms dripping and happy. 

This piece of historical fiction is based on a true story and shows creativity and problem solving galore.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.