This handsome and weighty compendium is not the usual linear biography for children, starting with the subject’s birth and moving on inexorably through childhood, career, reasons for fame, and then death. Instead, it is a meaty medley of stories, anecdotes, photographs and black and white reproductions that digs into the complicated psyches of one of America's most talked about couples, and the social and political forces that shaped their lives. Candace Fleming, a most versatile writer who has published numerous enjoyable picture books and two delightful novels for children, has also compiled two similarly stellar biographical scrapbooks on her own personal heroes—Our Eleanor, about Eleanor Roosevelt, and Ben Franklin's Almanac. On the two hundredth anniversary of Abraham’s birth, she explores the U.S. in the nineteenth century through the lens of the Lincolns.
In Fleming’s engaging introduction, she explains that she grew up near the old Lincoln place where Abraham and his family moved in 1830, and spent her childhood traipsing through Lincoln-related sites. When her editor suggested she write a book about him, "Suddenly, I longed to peel away the layers of myth and symbol and produce a close, intimate portrait of the man." She realized she couldn't understand Lincoln without acknowledging the influence of Mary, a driving force behind his success, with a mind as sharp as Hilary Clinton's, but without the chance to shine in her own right. A Springfield friend said of the couple, "They were like two pine trees that had grown so close their roots were forever entwined." When we think about Mary, the words “shrill” and “unbalanced” come to mind, but the portrait in this book is so nuanced, I cried when I read the account of how her country and her own children treated her after she had experienced the assassination of her husband and the deaths of three sons. If antidepressants were available then, wouldn't both of their lives have been different?
You will pore over each entry, starting with one chapter each about their difficult but different childhoods—his poverty-stricken, hers lap of luxury—and then see how they came together in 1839. Mary's brother-in-law labeled him "a mighty rough man" and, though smart and honest, "utterly classless" while describing her cleverness, at age twenty by saying, "Mary could make a bishop forget his prayers." This is no dry recitation of facts, but a collection of riveting stories that you can sample as read-alouds. Teachers will showcase the impressive newspaper-like layout as inspiration for similarly written biographies by students.
Reviewed by : JF.
Themes : BIOGRAPHY. PRESIDENTS. U.S. HISTORY.
CRITICS HAVE SAID
- The scrapbook technique . . . remains fresh and lively, a great way to provide a huge amount of information in a format that invites both browsing and in-depth study.
- Fleming offers another standout biographical title, this time twining accounts of two lives,Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, into one fascinating whole.
- It’s hard to imagine a more engaging or well-told biography of the Lincolns.
School Library Journal
IF YOU LOVE THIS BOOK, THEN TRY:
Cohn, Amy L., and Suzy Schmidt. Abraham Lincoln. Scholastic, 2002.
Collard, Sneed B. III. Abraham Lincoln: A Courageous Leader. Marshall Cavendish, 2007.
Fleischman, Paul. Bull Run. HarperCollins, 1993.
Fleming, Candace. Ben Franklin’s Almanac: Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman’s Life. Atheneum, 2003.
Fleming, Candace. Our Eleanor. Atheneum, 2005.
Freedman, Russell. Lincoln: A Photobiography. Clarion, 1987.
Friedman, Robin. The Silent Witness: A True Story of the Civil War. Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
Holzer, Harold. President Is Shot!: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Boyds Mill, 2004.
Kerley, Barbara. What to Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! Scholastic, 2008.
Lincoln, Abraham. The Gettysburg Address. Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Rabin, Staton. Mr. Lincoln’s Boys. Viking, 2008.
Rappaport, Doreen. Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln. Hyperion, 2009.
Sandler, Martin W. Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life.Walker, 2008.