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Bartolome: The Infanta's Pet ISBN: 9781908195265
Kooij, Rachel Van and Parkinson, Siobhan (translator)
Published by Little Island, 2012
Set in 17th Century Spain, this beautifully written and intense novel gives us in detail the life of a ten year old boy with massive disabilities. Bartolome is not only a dwarf, but also has club feet and a hump on his back. Walking is very difficult unless someone is holding his hand, but his mind is quicksilver bright. No one realises this in the village where he grows up, but when his father, who is the coachman for the Infanta Margarita in Madrid, comes home to tell his family that they are all moving to the city, life changes drastically for them all. At first it seems that Bartolome will not be allowed to accompany the family, but his mother insists, and as his father will not allow him to be seen by anyone, he must travel to Madrid in a box. This is only the first of the many indignities that Bartolome must endure, and at times he is wretched. His father is actively unkind, and it is only when the older two children in the family concoct a way for Bartolome to be taught to read and write - as a possible way out of his misery - that things begin to look up for him. In an accident, the young Infanta sees Bartolome and wants him as her pet dog. Margareta, a spoilt child, gets what she wants, and Bartolome must go to the court where further indignities await. It is hard to imagine in this day and age that a child would be treated thus, and it is only when Bartolome meets the court artists, the head artist of whom is Velazquez, and is treated as a normal human that all is latent talent begins to come forth. There is a happy ending, and even the dreadful father (who isn't above beating his children) sees his mistakes. 17th Century Spain is marvelously reproduced, and this is a real page turner. Bartolome is a brave lad who is determined that he is human and must be treated as such. The story was inspired by a Velazquez painting, Las Meninas, that hangs in the Prado in Madrid and pictures the Infanta with her menagerie of dwarfs, servants and animals.
Age: 10+