For starters, we’re told that there are over 16,000 books written about Lincoln: “I wanted to read them all, but I got lost in photos of his unusual face.” We learn where he was born, what his family life was like, and how he became a self-educated young man. We follow him as he becomes president, issues the Emancipation Proclamation, leads a country at war with itself, gives the Gettysburg Address, and is assassinated shortly after the end of the Civil War. Interspersed with the historical information are humorous, ingenuous asides from the narrator (“I wonder if Mary and Abraham had nicknames for each other. Did she call him Linky? Did he call her Little Plumpy?”) and little-known details that humanize the great man. For example, did you know that as a child, Lincoln was kicked in the head by a mule and slept for two days before he recovered? Or that he wrote notes to himself and stuffed them in his hat? Young readers will find these digressions hugely appealing.
The ending is moving and uplifting. The war and tragic end to Lincoln’s life are illustrated with somber paintings of a fallen solder’s uniform, objects associated with the assassination, and people mourning Lincoln’s death. These images are followed by bright, airy pictures of cherry blossoms in full bloom in Washington, DC. And the narrator reminds us: “But a great man is never really gone.” To prove her point, the final spread depicts a visitor (maybe the narrator) gazing upon the Lincoln Memorial and features Lincoln’s famous quote, “…With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
Visually and textually, Looking at Lincoln is a standout picture-book biography for children ages 5 to 10. Take a look for yourself! As for the kids, my bet is that they’ll finish Kalman’s book excited to learn more about the man we take for granted on our five-dollar bills and pennies.
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Can you suggest other books about Lincoln for children? What do you like to use in your classroom or have at home?