Rarely can one find a jump rope lover who does not know the rhyme,
Lizzie Borden took an axe,
Gave her mother forty whacks,
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Cheerfully children repeat the rhyme and continue the count to outdo their friends or best their own highest number.
The truth behind the old rhyme has become lost in speculation, beginning with sensational news stories and followed by legend. Sarah Miller begins her nonfiction book, The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century, with a view of Miss Lizbeth Borden (Lizzie) listening to children chant the rhyme as they skip rope on the sidewalk outside her house. Sarah ends her first chapter by saying nearly everything in those four lines is wrong.
In a well-researched book that reads like a murder mystery, she recounts what was known of the slaughter with witnesses whose reliability mirrors that on TV cop shows. She uses newspaper accounts that range from yellow journalism to more reliable sources and gives a day by day account of the murder, arrest, and trial. Careful attention to what was believed or reported contrasted with known and provable fact keeps the reader in the scene, following the procedures and drawing conclusions.
Both front and back matter add authentication to the book with notes in the front on spelling and apparent inconsistencies from sources used in her writing. Back matter includes extensive footnotes and bibliography. I read an advance reading copy provided by Net Galley of the book that goes on sale on January 12.
My only quandary is why they have labeled this for middle grade and up when an adult audience that remembers the legend would enjoy the story just as much and appreciate the intense research even more than a young audience. If you are wondering why everything in those four lines is wrong, which I feel sure was Sarah’s intent as it is mine, get the book and enjoy a good read. I won’t report that you’re old enough to have a driver’s license – or even an AARP card.