fiction favorites…Lincoln and His Boys

Lincoln and His Boys, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Suddenly a whole bunch of men come up and talk to Father.  A year ago, when he was running against Mr. Douglas, these same sort of men were always circling Father and doing the same important-sounding talk.  Father loves to talk back.  It’s because he is a lawyer, and Mama says lawyers are paid a dollar a minute to chatter away like monkeys in the trees.
One of the men comes over and claps me on the back.  His shirt is moon white, his fingernails clean and shined up like a woman’s.
I must be quiet and wait until they stop talking.  If spoken to, I must answer with a straight-shooter look in my eyes, Father tells me.  “That’s the key to it.  Look them spang in the eye and speak up.  Then they won’t treat you like a squirt,” he says.
I watch Father talk to these spiffed-up men with soft hands.  He makes them listen and makes them laugh.  He’s easy with them.  It’s Mama who taught him just how to be easy with rich men.  Mama comes from Kentucky people who own a fine amount of land.  They drink out of pure crystal glasses and ride fancy horses.  Mama knows about how to be rich like these men.  She’s proud of it.

This is the account of an exciting trip to Chicago, undertaken by Willie Lincoln and his father in 1859.  It’s just one little gem in this  rich book written by Rosemary Wells, which focuses on the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and two of his sons, Willie and Tad.  The boys tell the stories of home life, of their mother’s insistence on fine manners and her anxiety over her husband’s well-being, of antics and rough-housing in the president’s office, of Christmas in the White House.

Most of all, they describe their warm, doting, endlessly-patient father, a down-to-earth man with a hunger for education, an empathetic man with a listening ear for throngs of visitors, a man who loved his boys, and loved his nation, and was bowed with sorrow for both in a few, dreadfully long years.

Rosemary Wells has captured the voices of these two boys, and their parents, exquisitely.  Singing through her beautiful phrases are Lincoln’s quaint expressions; the boys’ childish, insightful thoughts on the presidency, the nation, and the war; the tender, proud, fondness for their father.  Wells’ writing flows along like smooth cream. Ninety lovely pages, with two chapters in Willie’s voice and one by Tad, bring us from just prior to Lincoln’s successful run for the presidency, through the end of the Civil War.  Wells, in an endnote, tells of her research for this story and assures us that “no detail was imagined or invented except the dialogue and the circumstances in which it took place.”

Meanwhile, P.J. Lynch provides gorgeous, sophisticated oil paintings which further elevate the tone of the book  as a historical piece.  I picked this one off the shelf, and couldn’t put it down until I’d read it right through.  It’s an excellent choice for elementary students and up.

Here’s an Amazon link:  Lincoln and His Boys