Thursday, August 28, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
With the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth rapidly approaching, it seems as if every week brings the announcement of yet more upcoming books about his life or career. This week is no exception. An intriguing new book about the Lincoln assassination, written for the middle-school age level, is already garnering some attention for its unusual approach to the subject.
"Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered" is written in the style of an 1860's newspaper. Real-life ads of the era along with real photos of the hanging of the Lincoln conspirators plus photos of the dead soldiers at Gettysburg combine to give a feel for what it would have been like to see experience the event as if the reader lived through these events. Adding to the realism, the pages are faux-aged to give a more authentic look and feel to the book. Warm pen and ink drawings of Lincoln, Booth, and other players in the story round out the book.
Supposedly compiled by the "National News Staff" (a fictitious newspaper) in 1866, the book is actually authored by Barry Denenberg, known for his unconventional approach to history for kids. Scheduled for publication next month (September 2008), the book is a coffee-table size volume (8 x 12 inches) and contains 40 pages in hardbound. Publisher's price will be $24.95 but I found it for less than that on Amazon and have already ordered my own copy. Feiwel and Friends is the publisher.
You can find more information about this book by clicking here. History doesn't have to be a boring jumble of dates, names, and places. Imagination and thinking outside the box can bring history alive to readers of all ages. This book and "Lincoln And His Boys" (reviewed here) are two of those books which can pique a life-long interest in Mr. Lincoln and indeed, in history itself.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 1:54 PM
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Of the thousands of books written about Abraham Lincoln over the past 150 years, many have been written specifically for children. These books have typically been brief (but complete) biographies or have focused on his presidency or his own childhood. I remember as a young boy being introduced to the world of Lincoln by some of the more famous of these children's books, such as "Meet Abraham Lincoln" and "Abe Lincoln Gets His Chance." The one thing common style in these books was that the author is also the narrator.
An upcoming book titled "Lincoln And His Boys" presents a different and perhaps unique approach to telling the Lincoln story. The book, authored by Rosemary Wells, shows Lincoln through his children's eyes. Targeted for age group 8-12 years, the book's two "narrators" are Lincoln's two younger sons, Willie and Thomas (or "Tad" as he was called). Opening with the year 1859, each "son" relates the major events affecting them and their family. Through the eyes of "Willie" and "Tad" the reader gets to experience their father's preparation for and election to the presidency; the long journey by train from Springfield to Washington; the Civil War; life in the President's House (as the White House was called in those days); and the emotional walk taken through Richmond, Virginia by Lincoln and Tad after it fell. Along the way, the boys share triumph and tragedy with the reader.
The book is scheduled to be published in January 2009 by Candlewick Press. Thanks to Alicia and Laura at the publishing company, I've been given the opportunity to read an advance copy of the book and would like to share my review. I am not associated with Candlewick Press and I have in no way been compensated by the company. The image of the front cover of the book is used by permission and is copyrighted by Candlewick Press.
Rosemary Wells brings Lincoln to life. This Lincoln is much more approachable and real, even to the adult reader. He's not just the crafty politician who becomes president; he's also a father who worships his children, especially Tad, who in real life was apparently uncontrollable. I found this approach to the Lincoln story refreshing and I suspect it will engage younger readers in a way many other books about Lincoln do not.
It's obvious that the author spent much time researching the book. Yet the facts never get in the way of the story, an important consideration for a children's book. Minute details are included such as the name of the hotel where Lincoln and Willie stayed while in Chicago, or the name of the boat which carries Tad and his father to Richmond. Wells was careful to have "Tad" refer to his father as "Papa-day" which is how Lincoln was addressed by Tad, who suffered from a cleft palate. "Papa-day" was Tad's way of saying "Papa dear". As the author herself writes, only the dialogue between the characters is fictional.
Emotions come through beautifully in the writing. "Willie" is worried about his mother's reaction to Lincoln's decision to run for the presidency. The reader experiences both the excitement and boredom of the long trip to Washington. "Tad" shares his devastation and loneliness he feels when his beloved brother Willie dies. The reader feels the grief his parents feel as well.
The illustrations were done in oils, which adds a measure of warmth to the book. The illustrator, P.J. Lynch, has done a fine job in bringing to life the stories told by the boys. The paintings are of a much higher quality than you'd find in most other children's books. They convey movement quite well and are beautiful to look at. Some of the illustrations of Lincoln don't resemble him very accurately, but this is not a major problem.
Finally, the book at only 96 pages is just the right length for the targeted age group. It's tells the important events in the Lincoln family's lives, but does not go on so long as to lose the young reader's interest and attention.
Things Which Made Me Think "Hmmmmm...."
As I was reading the book, a couple of concerns came to mind, one of which I think is fairly major. SPOILER ALERT! Do not read this paragraph and the next one if you don't wish to know just how the book ends. OK? OK. Don't say you've not been warned. "Lincoln And His Boys" concludes on the evening of April 11, 1865 with Lincoln giving a speech in celebration of the surrender of Lee's army. "Tad" tells the story to the reader, letting us know that his "Papa-day" asks for the band to play "Dixie" and how Tad is picking up the pages from his father's speech. "Tad" asks his father if they can go home now, Lincoln smiles, and basically says they can. And that is how the book concludes. It gives the appearance that everyone lived happily ever after, and of course, they did not. Lincoln was shot three nights later and died the morning after that. I've gone back and forth in my mind about the ending for a few days now whether or not I think the ending is appropriate. Other children's books about Lincoln, including ones I read early on, discuss the assassination. It's a tragic ending to the Lincoln story, but it's possibly THE event which helped to gain his entry into the pantheon of American history. On the other hand, the evening of celebration in Washington that night just might have been the last happy night of poor Tad's life. His mother never recovered from losing two sons (Eddie and Willie) and she truly became unhinged after the death of her husband. Tad himself would live only 6 more years, succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of 18. In some respects, I can understand why the horrible endings were left out of the book.
Still, I think some mention of the assassination needs to be made. I would suggest the addition of an epilogue or an afterward in which the final facts are explained at an age-appropriate level. In the epilogue, it could be the author telling the reader about what happened, as opposed to "Tad" talking about it. The important thing to consider is that this book could be the first introduction to Abraham Lincoln and his family for many young readers. These readers need to know the entire story, especially since the rest of the book is so accurate.
(end of spoiler!)
Another thing which struck me, albeit on a less important level, is that Ms. Wells makes no mention of the Lincoln family dog left behind in Springfield. "Fido," as he was known, was not taken to Washington with the family because he was terrified of loud noises. Lincoln felt that the dog would not survive the journey on the loud train, and the dog was left in the care of another family. However, Fido was a special member of the family and strict instructions were left with his new owners on how to care for him. Even his favorite horsehair sofa was left so Fido could have some measure of comfort. It is known that Tad, especially, begged Lincoln to not leave Fido behind. Sadness is not avoided in the book and it would've made the overall story about Lincoln and his boys even more endearing if this episode would've been talked about by "Willie" or "Tad."
Finally, I think a basic "table of facts" should have been included. Kids might like to learn more about Lincoln or his boys and birth dates, birthplaces, important events, and so on would have been very helpful.
"Lincoln And His Boys" is a much-welcomed addition to the world of children's books written about Mr. Lincoln. Indeed, it has the potential to become a classic read for children who want to learn more about our nation's 16th president. The unique approach to the story is refreshing, educational, and very entertaining. It helps the reader, no matter his or her age, to see Lincoln as he was, instead of as some long-dead president who is frozen in time. The ending does leave something to be desired, which is a shame considering how delightful and accurate the story telling is. Nonetheless, I will recommend it to anyone of any age who is interested in learning more about Abraham Lincoln.
4.5 out of 5 Log Cabins - Highly recommended.
"Lincoln And His Boys" is due for publication in January 2009 by Candlewick Press.
Author: Rosemary Wells
Illustrator: P.J. Lynch
96 Pages Hardbound - $16.99
Monday, August 18, 2008
In Washington, D.C. this summer, a new walking tour has begun in which the investigation of Lincoln's assassination is re-created. Beginning at Ford's Theater, the site of the shooting, an actor leads tour participants in a 90-minute walk during which people are encouraged to look for clues in hunting the assassin. Stops along the way include the alley behind the theater in which John Wilkes Booth mounted his horse during his escape; sites of hotels and houses that Booth was known to frequent; and the site of the Kirkwood House, where vice-president Andrew Johnson lived and who was once a target of the assassination plot.
The tour ends at the White House, where the final results of the investigation are revealed, including the hangings of four co-conspirators of Booth.
Actor Kip Pierson portrays Detective James McDevitt, a real-life Washington police officer who was on duty the night of the assassination. The tour costs $12.00 a person and will be on Wednesdays August 20 and 27 at 7:00 p.m. Beginning on September 13, the tours will be on Saturday mornings at 10:00 a.m. The last tour of the season will be on October 25. Contact Ford's Theater at 202-638-2367 or by visiting the Ford's Theater website.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. Over the course of three months from August to October, 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated each other in seven towns in Illinois as they competed for the U.S. Senate. The debates were mostly about slavery, Lincoln in opposition and Douglas in favor of "popular sovereignty," in which each state's citizens would have determination whether to accept slavery or prohibit it. Although Lincoln lost the election to the U.S. Senate (a decision made in those days by the legislature in Illinois, direct election of senators didn't happen until decades later), the debates thrust him into the national spotlight and helped him win the presidency two years later.
Two eminent Lincoln scholars, Rodney Davis and Douglas Wilson of Knox College (Galesburg, Illinois) are the co-editors of a new book about the debates. Titled "The Lincoln Douglas Debates: The Lincoln Center Studies Edition" is promoted by the gentlemen as a more accurate account of the debate speeches than has previously been written. The original debate sources scholars have to go by are two Chicago newspapers, one being a Republican paper, the other a Democrat publication. Each newspaper varied wildly in reporting the debates, including what each candidate said, how he reacted, crowd emotions, and so on. By performing a "critical analysis" of the original sources, Davis and Wilson claim that their new book is a "fuller and more accurate account of the speeches" made by Lincoln and Douglas.
Interestingly, Davis and Wilson have created podcasts of their in-depth analysis of each debate and have made them available on the web for those of us who are interested in learning more about the debates. Their podcasts are available here, courtesy of Knox College.
It should be noted that in those days, debates were "real" debates and not the so-called "debates" we are subjected to in modern times. Debates were not moderated, were not scripted, and were most certainly not limited to two minutes per response per candidate. The debates between Lincoln and Douglas sometimes took up to three hours and each candidate was allowed to speak freely. The voters (only white men in those days, of course) were thus able to truly understand each man's position on the critical issues of the day. It's a shame that we the people cannot have the same experience today.
Knox College in Galesburg was the site of one of the seven debates between Lincoln and Douglas on October 7, 1858. It's "Old Main" building is the only structure remaining from any of the debate sites. To learn more about the college itself, click here. To learn more about the college's association with Abraham Lincoln, including its Lincoln Center, click here.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Sunday, August 3, 2008
It's amazing to me how limitless the stories about Abraham Lincoln seem to be. Now thanks to some research by an Illinois woman, we now are learning how Abe might have dealt with the exhaustion he felt after a three-hour long debate with Stephen A. Douglas in Quincy, Illinois on October 13, 1858.
The article from yesterday's Quincy Herald-Whig newspaper relates how a local historian, Iris Nelson, stumbled upon an article in a 1907 issue of McClure's Magazine recounting how Lincoln was on the verge of collapse from exhaustion after the debate. According to the author of the McClure's article, George P. Floyd, Lincoln was taken back to his hotel and treated to a "rum sweat" in which a pan of rum was placed under a chair which Lincoln sat on, lit on fire, and then had Lincoln inhale the vapors of the burning rum. Afterwards, he was put to bed and the profuse sweating from the liquor vapors caused him to exude the stress from the debate. Supposedly later that night, Lincoln felt restored and was able to join his supporters for a torchlight parade.
Mr. Floyd was writing about this story some 50 years after it was alleged to happen. It was he and his wife who "prescribed" the treatment to Lincoln back in 1858. While it's always difficult to prove these anecdotes, the historian, Ms. Nelson, who serves on the local Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, feels that the story is accurate. She explains that Lincoln's supporters would have kept this story of the "rum sweat" from the press due to the vicious nature of the opposition papers of the day. No doubt, it would have led people to claim that Lincoln was a drinker, when in fact, he was not.
Who really knows if the story is true or not. Lincoln was of course in Quincy on that date, and it can be documented that Mr. Floyd was indeed a resident of Quincy, who served as a marshal in a parade of Lincoln supporters. In any case, it makes for an interesting story, yet another to add to the legend behind Lincoln.