Dear President Obama,
Before taking office you kicked off an Oprah-like reading tsunami as adults plunged into Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 book about the Lincoln administration, "Team of Rivals." Now that we're fully into the bicentennial of Honest Abe's birth year, here are some great new books about our 16th president that your daughters Malia and Sasha and their peers will enjoy.
Picture books for Sasha
(and other 7-year-olds)
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"What Lincoln Said" by Sarah Thomson, illustrated by James Ransome (HarperCollins). Thomson's simple biography of Lincoln gains power with inserted quotations that add emotion and proof of Lincoln's "two contradictory traits -- his flexibility and his strength of will." Ransome's illustrations animate both Lincoln's lightheartedness and graver sentiments.
"Abe's Honest Words" by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion). This lyrical biography recounts Lincoln's life and his devotion to words. Reared by a master storytelling father, Abraham stole moments to read while splitting wood. Later, ferrying passengers down the Mississippi, he listened to lawyers tell how they used words to gain justice for ordinary folk. He "stored these different voices in his heart and wove them into his own words." Rappaport punctuates pages with poignant Lincoln quotes. Yellow predominates in Nelson's illustrations demonstrating how words illuminated Lincoln's life.
"Mr. Lincoln's Boys: Being the Mostly True Adventures of Abraham Lincoln's Trouble-Making Sons, Tad and Willie" by Stanton Rabin, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Viking). These rough-and-tumble boys just wanna have fun in the White House, and their daddy is all about it. Illustrations and text show how the boys relieve the stress of their overwhelmed father as they climb his angular limbs, imitate the wars that concerns the country and come to their powerful father for wisdom.
Longer books for Malia
and other 10 and ups:
"Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered" by Barry Denenberg with art by Christopher Bing (Feiwel and Friends). Yellowed pages, etchings, photographs and period advertisements fill this oversized biography that pretends to be a "Special Memorial Edition" newspaper remembering the 16th president. After several pages covering the assassination (complete with pictures of the assassins' hangings that kids won't forget), the author and artist cover Lincoln's boyhood, youth, political and family life, and his leadership during war.
"Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life" by Martin Sandler (Walker). Who was the man and what was the image? This book raises those questions while teaching us a great deal about early photography and Lincoln's brilliance in presenting himself. As a young man he avoided frilly clothes and mussed his hair to show himself as a man of the people. Later he positioned himself in the middle of group pictures, accentuating his appearance with the tall stovepipe hat. Famed photographer Mathew Brady hid his scrawny neck with a high shirt collar and posed him with a pillar and books to symbolize his strength and love of learning.
"The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary" by Candace Fleming (Random House). Wander through the photos and memories of the president and his wife. Note their different upbringings: the rickety cabin at Sinking Spring Farm, Kentucky, where Abraham Lincoln was born, and the expansive house where Mary Todd was delivered by the most expensive midwife in Lexington. Witness their childhoods, courtship, marriage, joys and sorrows while getting a glimpse of Fido, the Lincoln's pet dog, and seeing a tracing of Lincoln's feet for a pair of boots that wouldn't pinch.
Books for family sharing
"Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship" by Nikki Giovanni illustrated by Bryan Collier (Holt, $16.95, ages 8 and up). Glistening stars and glittering jewels shine at a reception of newly elected President Lincoln, but he's distracted. He's seeking out his friend Frederick Douglass, who's been prevented from entering by the front door. Finally the men find each other and "the journey across the ballroom felt like a journey across time." This begins a story about the two men's similar backgrounds, shared values and fight for freedom. The powerful words are matched by visual strength, especially the fold-out illustration of the bright ballroom that opens to reveal the somber blues and grays of a Civil War battlefield.
"Abraham Lincoln Comes Home" by Robert Burleigh, paintings by Wendell Minor (Holt, ages 6-10). Lincoln's life was measured by the many who grieved for him, like young Luke, who goes into a quiet night with his father to see the train that's carrying Lincoln's body to its final resting place in Springfield, Ill. In a sensory whirl Luke breathes in "a smell of metal mixed with the faint scent of lilacs" as bonfires and torches blaze before the train with flowers, flags and Lincoln's picture. And Luke witnesses his father crying for the first time. Minor's realistic drawings provide even more impressions of the era, the boy and his memorable night.
An audio alternative
And here's a CD for the family limo: "Lincoln: A Photobiography" by Russell Freedman, read by Robert Petkoff (Listening Library, unabridged, 2 CDs with photo slideshow and author interview). This Newbery Medal-winning book of photos makes a fabulous translation to audio as Freedman has drawn a strong portrait of Lincoln with words. He covers the many facets of the man with plenty of quotations, entertaining stories and evocative descriptions. Petkoff's natural storytelling makes this a great family listen.
P.S. As you start out your new family life in the White House, you might want to take a look at these two books. Gibb Davis' Wackiest White House Pets (Scholastic, $16.95) might give you a few grins as you train your new puppy. The whole family might enjoy "First Kids: The True Stories of All the Presidents' Children" (Scholastic, $7.99), written by 13-year-old Noah McCullough, and it might give your daughters some new ideas for fun.