Lincoln: A Photobiography

LincolnLincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman. Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 1987. 160 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 9-12. ISBN: 9780395518489.

1988 Newbery Medal.

Russell Freedman takes kids seriously. This is not a “nice” biography that gives kids a story about honest Abe. This is a serious attempt to write about Lincoln in all of his complexity.

Freedman shows Lincoln as a human being. Lincoln was sometimes deeply depressed, as was his wife, Mary. He sank into despair after the deaths of his two sons. Lincoln had a self-disparaging sense of humor that he used to put people at ease and to please crowds when he gave speeches. Above all, Lincoln had an interest in and concern for his fellow human beings regardless of the color of their skin. Frederick Douglass is quoted as saying that Lincoln was unique because he never reminded Douglass of the different colors of their skin. Every afternoon Lincoln talked with constituents who lined up to ask the president for help.

Ambition was always a part of Lincoln’s personality. He wanted to learn to read, and then to read widely. He wanted to study the law, and eventually had a successful legal practice. He wanted to win elections, and he did.

Lincoln was not a leader in the cause of abolition. He believed slavery would end naturally. Freedman allows the reader to watch as Lincoln’s attitude toward slavery gradually changes until close to the end of his life he pushes hard for the 13th amendment to the Constitution which outlaws slavery.

Preserving the union was the original purpose of the Civil War. Freedman shows the reader how the view of the purpose of the war changed slowly until at the end of the war it was clear the war was about freeing the slaves.

The day-to-day details of the Civil War were a frustration to Lincoln. It took him several years to find the right generals, but when he finally did the war ended quickly.

The text is full of quotations from Lincoln and others. The quotations are woven into the text so well that the reader is never jolted out of the story by the quotations.

The book contains many pictures. Some are of Lincoln. Some are of political rivals, and generals and soldiers. There are pictures of Lincoln’s wife and his sons. I was particularly struck by a photograph of Lincoln taken on April 10, 1865, just before his death. The photo captures Lincoln’s eyes, rich with intelligence and feeling. Freedman captures the same richness in Lincoln the man.

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Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac
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Sunday Cummins Experience Nonfiction

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Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Lincolns Gettysburg AddressLincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Written by Abraham Lincoln. Illustrated by James Daugherty. New introduction by Gabor S. Borritt. Albert Whitman & Company, 2013 (originally published in 1947). 48 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 6 to 18. ISBN: 9780807545508.

This larger than life book was originally published in 1947. It’s been re-released in this 150th anniversary year of the Gettysburg Address. The original book included a forward by James Daugherty, the Gettysburg Address written on a single page, and then 15 two-page spreads. Each spread includes a phrase from the Gettysburg Address as well as a painting that resembles a WPA mural. The new book includes these elements plus an afterword by Gabor Boritt, an emeritus professor of civil war studies at Gettysburg College and Daugherty’s notes on each of his paintings.

The words themselves are, of course, remarkable. They are part of our heritage. The paintings, with their deep, rich, colors are awe-inspiring. I have spent at least an hour looking at them. Each time I go back to a spread, I see things I missed on previous viewings. And I still wonder about what’s included in some of the spreads, even after reading Daugherty’s comments. I can imagine two or three children gathered around a copy of this book trying to puzzle out what’s meant by elements of the paintings.

The paintings are a product of their time. They reference the first and second world wars as well as the Civil War. I am disappointed that the people in the paintings are overwhelmingly white. On the spread where the words “and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” not one single nonwhite person is included in the painting. On the last spread, where the words “and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth,” there are several blacks and even one Asian-looking man. These spreads could be used to discuss how far we’ve come in thinking about race and diversity since 1947.

For all their drawbacks, the paintings are amazing and make the book well worth having in a library, a classroom or a personal collection.

Blog Reviews:

Dad of Divas’ Reviews
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Publisher’s Weekly

Interesting Articles:

Serendipitous Discovery Leads to Timely Reissue at Albert Whitman by Claire Kirch. Publisher’s Weekly, January 10, 2013.