Julia Gonzaga (book review)

Carr, Simonetta. Julia Gonzaga (Christian Biographies for Young Readers). Hardcover. Reformation Heritage Books, 2018. 64pp. $8. Purchase at RHB website.

Biographical Sketch of Author and Illustrator

Simonetta Carr – Author (from Amazon)

Award-winning author Simonetta Carr was born in Italy and has lived and worked in different cultures. She worked first as an elementary school teacher and then as a home-schooling mother for many years. Besides writing books, she has contributed to newspapers and magazines around the world and has translated the works of several authors from English into Italian and vice versa. Presently, she lives in San Diego with her husband Thomas and the youngest of her eight children. She is a member and Sunday School teacher at Christ United Reformed Church.

Matt Abraxas – Illustrator (from Amazon)

Matt Abraxas has traveled from California to France, studying different approaches to art. He enjoys creating and teaching art and currently exhibits his work at the SmithKlein Gallery in Boulder, Colorado. Matt lives with his wife, Rebecca, and two sons, Zorba and Rainer, in Lafayette, Colorado.

Series Description (from the Reformation Heritage Books website)

This series introduces children to important people in the Christian tradition. Parents and school teachers alike will welcome the excellent educational value it provides for students, while the quality of the publication and the artwork make each volume a keepsake for generations to come. Furthermore, the books in the series go beyond the simple story of someone’s life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character.

From the Back Cover

At age twenty, Julia Gonzaga was one of the most envied women in Italy. A property owner, she entertained artists, poets, and musicians at her castle; and she was the prettiest woman in the country! Yet Julia was confused and anxious about God and her own sin. No matter how hard she tried not to sin, she often put her desires to please other people before obeying God. She finally found peace when she understood the gospel, and then she devoted her life to sharing the good news with others. Her story, set in the 1500s, gives today’s young readers an opportunity to learn about the unique challenges of the Italian Reformation and some of the Italian Christians who risked and even gave their lives for the sake of Christ.


Until reading this short biography, I had never heard of Julia Gonzaga nor the other faithful saints mentioned as part of her story. I thoroughly enjoy Christian biographies because they offer me perspectives I would never have considered. Gonzaga’s story is striking because it’s a story of a woman who, by worldly standards, had a lot of what we tend to set our hopes on—beauty, wealth, and security. But those things do not satisfy the heart that hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Thankfully, God sends the outward call of the gospel to those whom he is drawing to Himself.

The gospel presentation by her friend Juan de Valdes in 1536 is absolutely spectacular. I was particularly impressed that after she tells him of some conflict she is feeling, he tells her “I am also glad and pleased to hear of this conflict.” Instead of trying to comfort her or therapize her, he wants her to wrestle with what she had heard about God from some preaching. Then after Valdes explains (with expert theological precision) the tasks of the law and the gospel, she responds with “tell me, without flatteries, if you can lead me…because I have a strong tendency to follow my own desires…”

This is the type of thinking and language that we need to re-possess today in the church and I am hopeful it will be done in my family through these biographies.

The suffering that she and her friends endured is only eclipsed by God’s faithfulness to them to preserve them. This is a story of ordinary saints with an extraordinary God. Yet the same Spirit that filled them fills us, and we find hope in our own weakness when we read Julia’s story and follow her life of faith in Christ.

This is a 64-page book written for “young readers.” It’s not a textbook and can be enjoyed by children up to adults. It’s easy to read in one sitting but has depth and extra content which can be used for further contemplation or home-school such as a timeline and a “did you know” section with interesting facts about some of the historical details found in the biography. I imagine the author would be happy to think that this short volume led someone to further research about Julia Gonzaga.

The illustrations and photos are excellent and make some of the ideas and events from history more tangible, especially for kids. Each illustration has a helpful caption.


This book is an excellent addition to your home and will enlighten you about the life of a dear saint of God whom you may have never heard of. I think it is particularly important that we remember history. In 2021, Roman Catholics are very near to our biggest ally in many culture wars against social ills in the US. Remembering the vile persecution of born-again Christians from the past by this apostate religious system is helpful in training up children for holding to the faith, and a good reminder for adults as well. I appreciate Carr’s no-holds-barred approach to criticizing the papacy and everything about it as she tells Gonzaga’s story.

Recommended without reservation for everyone age 7 and up, especially at only $8 as of August 2021 at the RHB website.

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