Looking at Lincoln

Looking at LincolnLooking at Lincoln, written and illustrated by Maira Kalman.  Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin, 2012.  32 pages.  Publisher recommends for ages 5-8.  ISBN: 9780399240393.

The narrator of this book about Abraham Lincoln is fascinated by his face.  She wants to learn as much as she can about Lincoln. She learns the well-known facts such as his poverty as a child, his honesty and the difficulties of his presidency. Whimsy also has a place. She imagines that on the day Lincoln was elected president his wife made him his favorite vanilla cake. She wonders if Lincoln and his wife had nicknames for each other. While Lincoln was thinking deep thoughts about the United States and about democracy, she imagines that he also thought about getting a birthday present for his son.  An illustration of the uniform of one of the first soldiers killed in the Civil War brings out one of the most serious commentaries. There’s also a shockingly serious commentary above the pistol with which Lincoln was killed.

It seems as if the narrator, in her commentaries, is attempting to humanize Lincoln for herself. This is a very difficult task for a textbook to accomplish. This book has text book information, but it also has the commentaries, so Lincoln becomes the narrator’s picture of a vital, living person rather than just “the 16th president.”

The facts of the book are printed in typeface. The narrator’s commentaries are, in a very readable print/cursive combination. Some of the words in the commentaries are brightly colored for emphasis.

The illustrations add color and emotional depth to the book. One of the funnier illustrations shows a mule wearing a hat and looking recalcitrant on the lower right, and two legs flying off the ground in the upper left.  This illustrates Lincoln being kicked in the head by a mule. The illustration of the time of mourning following Lincoln’s death is a two-page spread using dark blue and black and gray and white. But the commentary notes that “a great man is never really gone.” The next page is full of pink cherry blossoms and bright green grass. In the final illustration, the narrator is at the Lincoln Memorial, looking into Lincoln’s eyes, and the colors are pastels.

At the end of the book there are many notes about Lincoln and about the facts in the book.

“Looking at Lincoln” is a beautiful introduction to Lincoln, as well as a conversation starter about Lincoln, about slavery, about the Civil War, about political assassination and about legacy.