a list of…five admiring accounts about Abe

President’s Day arrives next week.  Last year I reviewed five books on George Washington which you can read here, and the year before that was a mixture of presidential titles — that’s here.  This year I’ve got five fantastic perspectives on Lincoln.

stand tall abe lincoln cover imageStand Tall, Abe Lincoln, by Judith St. George, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 on a small, hardscrabble farm in Kentucky.  His mother, Nancy Lincoln, was a warmhearted, loving woman who cared well for her family.  But, what a terribly difficult life.  Loads of chores were to be expected, but the death of an infant brought a lingering shadow of grief upon Nancy, and a land dispute finally drove Abe’s father to move to Indiana.

Life there was rougher and tougher.  Worst of all, when Abe was just 9 years old, his mother died.  The suffocating sadness of the household was finally relieved when hisstand tall abe lincoln illustration matt faulkner father remarried, bringing glad, strong-willed Sally and her 3 children to join their household.  Sally loved Abe with a fierce love, and saw to it that he continued his education as best he could, enabling him to stand tall and take his important place in the world.

Judith St. George has written an absorbing account of Lincoln’s earliest years.  Though many biographers skip quickly over this stage of his life, St. George richly narrates it, providing intriguing details, incidents which took root in his young heart or revealed what had already sprouted there.  Unless you are a keen Lincoln devotee, you will learn new information in this book.  Her clear, vivid, account reads smoothly and beautifully.

It’s a longer read than most picture books, but could be read in installments to early elementary students.   Matt Faulkner’s excellent gouache illustrations will easily hold kids’ attention for the longish story.  Loads of warm, rustic color, perspectives that rivet us to the expressive faces, energy, and palpable emotion combine to enrich the biography immensely.

The story leaves off when Abe is still living at home, a fairly young boy.  A one page summary of his life concludes the book in which his many contributions to our country are listed.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

looking at lincoln cover imageLooking at Lincoln, written and illustrated by Maira Kalman

If you are familiar with Maira Kalman, you probably know that she truly adores Abraham Lincoln.  Her unsuppressed affection for him radiates from this charming book.

Told in the voice of a child, a sprinkling of details about Abe begins with a quick peek at his boyhood years at home.  We also get brief, engaging glimpses of Springfield, family life, his election, the Civil War, and his death.  Meanwhile, winsome remarks wind their way into the narration which utterly disarm us and catapult this book into a tender, uncommonly looking at lincoln illustration maira kalmanhuman biography.  I think I fell in love with it when I read her musings over the pet names Abe and Mary may have had for one another!  So funny!   Observations about the war that are childlike in their frank, unpolished candor remove any sort of historical distance and seat us on a chair right next to this giant of a man.

Kalman, of course, is an acclaimed artist, whose work refreshes us with its playfulness, its forthrightness, its dazzling color and wit and emotion.  Her artwork which lavishly decorates these pages just takes your face between two steady hands and fixes your gaze on Lincoln, creating a uniquely personal, emotional interaction.

What can I say?  I love this highly original book.  I think you will, too.  Ages 5 to grandpa.

lincoln tells a joke cover imageLincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (And the Country), by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Stacy Innerst

This biography of Lincoln briskly marches from his birth, through his growing up, his years dabbling in a variety of jobs before turning to law, his marriage and family, election and life in the White House,  the Civil War, and finally to his death.

Throughout these accounts, which examine only briefly the typically-presentedlincoln tells a joke illustration stacy innerst facts, the authors lay down one anecdote after another which reveal Lincoln’s delightful, disarming sense of humor.  Far from being seen as inappropriate or silly, Lincoln is portrayed as one who endured much pain and grief throughout his life, yet who constantly reached for a perspective that would lighten others’ hearts, cushion blows, disarm critics, quell dissension, and bring a ray of light to his own sorrowful heart.

To write this, Krull and Brewer searched out the nooks and crannies of Lincoln sources.  Their account is fresh and thought-provoking.  It’s a great addition to Lincoln-lore for children, and will catch the interest of mid-elementary children and up, even if they’ve already learned a good deal about him.  I imagine that for those whose life also encompasses heavy sorrows, a special affinity for Lincoln might arise.

Stacy Innerst’s acrylic illustrations emphasize the awkward, gangly stature of Lincoln, and his often lonely positions in life.  The warm,  down-home colors and primitive style echo Lincoln’s humble roots and kind manner.

just a few words mr. lincoln cover imageJust a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln: The Story of the Gettysburg Address, by Jean Fritz, illustrated by Charles Robinson

Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech on the battlefield of Gettysburg was just 271 words long.  So short, the massive audience hardly had time to warm up to his drawling Kentucky accent, to still the butterflies in their stomachs at the sight of the tall, bearded president, when he sat down, finished!  What?!  After the long, long build-up, the hours of standing, listening to other long-winded speeches, this brief talk was not what they were expecting!

Yet, it is one of the most important speeches of all time.  Lincoln packed tremendousjust a few words mr lincoln illustration charles robinson 001 weight and vision into those few lines.  Jean Fritz, who has given us so many wonderful biographies, uses her unique style and knack for choosing detail to tell the story of how Lincoln wrote and delivered his  speech.  Weaving in sobering details of the battle, quirky tidbits about sleeping quarters in Gettysburg, and poignant insights into Lincoln’s thoughts, Fritz delivers, as usual, a fascinating account with depth and brevity.

This is billed as a high-level independent reader.  The pages are nicely laid-out with plenty of Robinson’s loose watercolors, a few historic photos, and reasonably short pararaphs of text so a stout reader, not quite ready for a full fledged chapter book, can tackle it.  Great for reading aloud to those younger, as well.

abe lincoln's hat cover imageAbe Lincoln’s Hat, by Martha Brenner, illustrated by Donald Cook

Perhaps you’ve heard that Abe Lincoln used his stovepipe hat as a filing cabinet of sorts, stuffing important papers or letters there for safekeeping and convenience.

This early-reader centers around that hat of Abe’s — how he bought it when he began practicing law and came to use it as a unique cupboard!  Numerous entertaining anecdotes about Lincoln show readers his lively sense of humor, the unusual difficulties of being a country lawyer in his day, Lincoln’s cleverness in settling disputes, and his path to the presidency through the debates with Stephen Douglas.

I remember this book from my kids’ early reading stages.  I really like the abe lincoln's hat illustration donald cookway Brenner has packed it with lots of interesting glimpses of Lincoln, despite the limited word count.  Obviously, nothing is treated in depth. Yet it is far from bland, offering enticing details that will make young readers want to know more, especially with her final assurance that all the stories in her book are true.  It also focuses on a period in Lincoln’s life which is often over-looked in favor of his presidency.  Donald Cook’s friendly, warm illustrations are interesting and not overly-young, filling at least half of every page with colorful, engaging scenes.

For older beginning-readers especially, it’s lovely having such interesting content and artwork that does not scream “five-year-old.”

Here are Amazon links for all these honest-to-goodness great books about Lincoln:

Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln
Looking at Lincoln
Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country)
Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln (Penguin Young Readers, L4)
Abe Lincoln’s Hat (Step into Reading)