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Betsy and the Emperor

Reading Discussion Guides

Betsy and the Emperor by Staton Rabon

About the Book

Fourteen-year-old English girl Betsy Balcombe and her family have an unusual houseguest: Napoleon Bonaparte, former emperor of France and the most feared man on earth. Once lord and master to eighty-two million souls, now, in 1815, Napoleon is a captive of the British people. Stripped of his empire and robbed of his young family and freedom, he is confined to the forbidding, rat-infested island of St. Helena.

The one bright star in Napoleon’s black sky is Betsy, a blazingly rebellious teenager whose family is reluctantly housing the notorious prisoner. Betsy is the only foreigner Napoleon’s ever met who is not impressed by him — and Napoleon is more than intrigued.

An unexpected alliance is formed. And a remarkable friendship between emperor and girl spawns gossip, and inspires Betsy to hatch a daring and dangerous scheme that could threaten both their lives and shake entire empires to their foundations. Rabin’s story reveals new insights into the heart and mind of one of the most towering, fascinating historical figures of our time — and tells a tale of hope and bravery that will inspire readers to their own heights of courage.

About the Author

Staton Rabin has a B.F.A. in film from New York University. In addition to writing for children, she is a screenwriter; a popular speaker about the art, craft, and business of writing for film; and a veteran story analyst for Scr(i)pt magazine, screenwriters, and producers. Staton Rabin lives in Irvington, New York.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is Napoleon sent to St. Helena? What do you think it was like for Napoleon, the emperor of France, to be taken from Europe to a remote island and imprisoned in a private home? Do you think the imprisonment was fair?
  • Betsy and her brother’s tutor, Huff, develop a plan to free Napoleon. What is the plan? If the plan were successful, what would it mean for Napoleon? How would it change the course of history?
  • Betsy describes St. Helena as a prison. Why does she feel this way? What does Betsy learn from Napoleon about the meaning of freedom?
  • Betsy and the Emperor is a work of historical fiction. What is historical fiction? What responsibility do writers of historical fiction have to stay true to the facts? How much are writers “allowed” to make up? Do you think the author accurately portrays Napoleon’s life and times?

Extension Activities

  • Locate St. Helena Island on a world map or in an atlas. Trace the journey from Great Britain to St. Helena. What land and water masses separate St. Helena from France? Use your knowledge of geography, politics, and history to create a series of journal entries that Napoleon might have written while on board the ship bound for St. Helena.
  • Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the Napoleonic Code with the U.S. Constitution.
  • Napoleon finds a collection of plates on which key events of his life are depicted. What are some of the events that appear on these plates? On a paper plate, draw or paint a scene that depicts a key event that occurred during Napoleon’s time on St. Helena.
Betsy and the Emperor

Betsy and the Emperor

Staton Rabon
Age Level:
Middle Grade
Fiction, Historical Fiction