Looking at Lincoln

Title: Looking at Lincoln
Author & Illustrator: Maira Kalman
Check out the interview (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast)
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012
Book Type: Non-Fiction
Ages: 5-10
Themes: Presidents, Civil War, American History

Synopsis (from Amazon website):
Abraham Lincoln is one of the first giants of history children are introduced to, and now Maira Kalman brings him to life with her trademark style and enthusiasm. Lincoln’s legacy is everywhere – there he is on your penny and five-dollar bill. And we are still the United States because Lincoln helped hold them together.

But who was he, really? The little girl in this book wants to find out. Among the many other things, she discovers our sixteenth president was a man who believed in freedom for all, had a dog named Fido, loved Mozart, apples, and his wife’s vanilla cake, and kept his notes in his hat. From his boyhood in a log cabin to his famous presidency and untimely death, Kalman shares Lincoln’s remarkable life with young readers in a fresh and exciting way.

This book was based off an on-line tribute that Maira Kalman authored and illustrated for the New York Time in 2009. I highly recommend checking out.
ProTeacher! website contains links to for various Abraham Lincoln classroom activities: crossword puzzles, lesson plans, reading list, etc.
PBS documentary series “Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided” may be interesting for older students and adults. I just found out about it, looks interesting.

Why I Like This Book:
Beautiful tribute with a contemporary voice and bright, bold colored gouche illustrations that will hook any reader young or old. This is not your typical picture book biography.

The story reads as if you are listening to a friend tell you about her day

“One day, while walking through the park on my way to breakfast I saw a very tall man. He reminded me of someone, but I could not think who … And then I remembered. The man I had seen looked exactly like Abraham Lincoln.”

The author doesn’t just spew out a lot of facts but also theorizes about Lincoln’s thoughts, reminding readers that our 16th president was just an ordinary person too.

“What was he thinking about? He was thinking about democracy … And maybe he was also thinking about getting a birthday present for his little son.  Maybe a whistle. Or pickup sticks.”

Text which are the narrator’s thoughts are in a different font from the factual information.

The highlights of this book are the illustrations. Especially the final few pages. The spread about the assassination, with the pistol on the left with the empty rocking chair and fallen top hat on the right made me pause for a bit. Equally moving in an uplifting way are the final two spreads letting readers know that Abraham Lincoln will live FOREVER.

The book also has Notes and Bibliography sources at the end.

I loved this book, except for one topic which really bothered me, regarding the reason the Northern and Southern states went to war. In a picture book format for young kids facts, thoughts, the truth will be bent sometimes as the topic maybe too complicated or not appropriate for young readers. Below is the text that concerns me:

It was a difficult time to be president.
The Southern states (the Confederacy) wanted
their own country where slavery was allowed.
Lincoln said no. We must stay one country.
The Northern states (the Union) believed
that slavery should be abolished.
And so they went to war.

While the text does reference the Southern states wanting to secede and the North (Lincoln) saying no. The text implies that the issue was slavery, which would be an oversimplification. Wouldn’t it be better to simply state that the Southern states wanted to create their own country without giving a reason, thereby leaving it up to the teacher/parent/librarian to answer the child’s question of why, or that the Southern states wanted state governments to have more power. Neither of these alternate choices are much better, but I still think that would be more accurate than to say the Civil War was fought over humanitarian reasons. What do you think?

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended. PPBF is on hiatus for the summer, however I will still continue to post book reviews. I may try different formats and may try to squeeze in one or two MG novels. As a result I may not have a consistent posting schedule for the summer, but rest assured I am still very interested in telling you about great children’s books.

If you would like to stay current with what I am reading, click Goodreads and then click on “follow reviews” button to get my updates.

No Responses to “Looking at Lincoln”

  1. Stacy S. Jensen

    I should begin wearing a hat, so I can have a place for notes. This looks like an interesting book. The new Lincoln/vampire movie will not doubt create more interest in Lincoln.

    • Darshana

      good idea, my notes seem to be scattered all over the place. what is this new Lincoln/vampire movie? saw the title somewhere and was like what the heck.

  2. Susanna Leonard Hill

    I find Lincoln to be such an appealing personality on so many levels, from the great things he did, to his sad eyes, to his incredible gift for writing. Really – anyone who can write the Gettysburg Address and the end of the second inaugural speech – so much truth and emotion in so few words – is truly gifted! I’m so glad to have this book to add to our list, and I would love to read it. I have mixed feelings on the section you quoted. I agree it’s not quite clear. At least the concept of the South wanting their own government is mentioned – sometimes that is skipped altogether and the whole Civil War is blamed on slavery. Many people in the North did go to war against slavery, and it was Lincoln who stood so firmly on the issue of keeping the union together.

    • Darshana

      Thanks Susanna for your thoughts. My personal feelings stem from an 8th grade history teacher who railed into us that the real reason for the Civil War was secession and state’s rights. Last night I was reading up on various sites the reasons for the Civil War and it all seems very intricate slavery issues related to humanitarian reasons, economic, a reason for seceding which is tied into state’s rights. Of course I agree you can’t say all that in a picture book for young kids.

  3. Kirsten Larson

    What a fabulous book! I’m putting it on my “to read” list. Darshana, I agree that the Civil War is a complex topic for elementary. It’s about state’s rights and slavery. I don’t think you can separate the too. But when introducing the concept to small children, I guess some oversimplification is inevitable.

    • Darshana

      glad you liked it. i am starting to realize now why a respected librarian told me that simply saying the Civil War was just about secession and states’ rights without mentioning slavery was also an oversimplification.

  4. Amy Dixon

    Wow, what a fascinating book! My husband loved the Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter book and is looking forward to the movie. So odd!

  5. Beth Stilborn

    What an interesting sounding take on Lincoln, Darshana! I actually teared up at your description of the assassination spread. The reasons for the Civil War are so complicated — I fear it often does get boiled down to pro-slavery and anti-slavery. Tricky topic to tackle. It might have been better to liken it to a fight between siblings, over many things and one more thing just gets the fight going. (Just my two cents off the top of my head — Lincoln pennies, of course.)

    • Darshana

      Thanks Beth. I actually had to re-read what I wrote after your comment. I like your analogy of siblings fighting.

    • Beth Stilborn

      Note that I meant that the author might have done better to use the analogy of siblings fighting, not you! What you wrote was spot-on!

  6. Patricia Tilton

    Darshana wonderful, thorough review. I have heard about this book and have wanted to read it — now even more after your review. I loved the NY Times piece that preceded the book. I have mixed feelings about the section you mentioned. It is complex, but I also didn’t find that it would be harmful. Have reviewed many children’s books on slavery. And, kids are smart. It may depend on the child. Great review!

    • Darshana

      Thank for sharing your perspective. I agree the section isn’t harmful. I just have a personal qualm with making the North to be all noble in going to war over humanitarian rights, when there were significant economic and political forces as well.

      • Patricia Tilton

        Was introduced to a MG book written by Michelle Isenoff, that offers a very different perspective. It’s part of a three part series. I’m reviewing The Candle Star, Aug. 15 — when the third book in her Trilogy “The Divided Decade” is published. My ancestors were from the North, so I enjoyed the different perspective. It was a complex time.

  7. patientdreamer

    Great Review Darshana. This makes for very interesting reading, will see if we have it in our local library just so I can check it out. There are some parts of American History that I really enjoy and Lincoln is one of them. I will continue to pop back here through YOUR summer, as I enjoy your blog.

  8. carterhiggins

    This is such a thoughtful review! You have a beautiful way of sharing your thoughts about books. And this one looks gorgeous, I have never seen it before!

    • Darshana

      Glad you enjoyed the review. You should definitely check out the artwork in the book, it plays well in creating a mood along with the text.

  9. Julie Foster Hedlund

    This looks like a wonderful book to start kids on learning to love history. And Lincoln inspires such curiosity and admiration from an early age. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Joanna Marple

    I know so little about US presidents that a picture book like this is a great starting place for me! Thanks for all the additional information you linked us to today.

  11. Julie Rowan-Zoch

    Another Lincoln fan here, awed by what this man accomplished and how he persevered despite horrific personal loss and the lengthy bouts of depression. I sometimes wonder if he ‘knew’ he would not live a long life and therein found the strength to push on with his agenda. I also do not find the passage you mentioned to be ‘correct’, yet surely the compassionate child will wonder and seek out more information on why the war was fought. At least they will learn more in class by fifth grade!

    • Darshana

      Great comments, you certainly know a lot more about Lincoln than I do. I think I just feel bad that I never questioned what I learned in elementary school or knew to dig deeper. My parents were immigrants to the US and had just brief knowledge of American history at that time.

  12. clarbojahn

    Yes, it is oversimplifying to say the civil war was just about slavery. It was about much more than that. I have to find this book! I love biographies.. And I love Abraham Lincoln.
    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  13. Cathy Ballou Mealey

    Graet commentary from all! I did read this book from our library and enjoyed it. My DD was not as interested, but is finishing a unit on Revolutionary War and more into colonial/local history.
    It’s too easy to oversimplify why countries go to war. We know slavery, secession, states’ rights, etc were factors in the Civil War, but it is complicated and convoluted when you account for political forces and economic forces as well. I like your idea of being less specific – keeps the focus on Lincoln’s role.

    • Darshana

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I haven’t even attempted to read it to my 6yr old, maybe next Feb during Lincoln’s Bday. Thanks for your perspective on my Civil War question.

  14. viviankirkfield

    Thanks, Darshana, for an excellent review! I love non-fiction picture books that can bring history alive for kids. 🙂 Great resource and activity list also. 🙂

  15. Renee @ Mother Daughter Book Reviews

    I love the cover art on this one. It captures the “greatness” of Lincoln (by the sheer size of the statue) but his approachability and humanity as well. So even if the little girl is small, it still looks like the two are in conversation.
    Interesting what you said about the text regarding why there was a civil war. What I find troubling is the depiction of a “good” vs. “bad” – the North was good, the South was bad. I agree that it could have been discussed in a very different way – perhaps by suggesting (in a simple way) that there were different ideologies, but what prevailed was what was best for ALL of the people in the U.S. or something like that.
    Sounds like a fabulous book regardless. Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop once again! 🙂

    • Darshana

      Hi Renee, Glad you enjoyed the review. Thanks for weighing in on the North vs South. I like your take on how it could have been handled. It was interesting to see the number of views people had on this topic. You should definitely read it, its worth the time.

  16. snacksformax

    I love when we learn more about nonfiction books. I always find myself sinking into the fiction-only trap. Thank you so much for joining the Kid Lit Blog Hop! I’m following you on Twitter and Facebook. I hope you join us again in March!

  17. tina

    I disagree with your take on the mention of slavery in that passage. First, slavery WAS the biggest issue of the Civil War–was it not? Second, Kalman may have simplified the topic here but I believe it IS the job of the teacher/parent to answer questions and guide a discussion in a way that is appropriate to whatever age group. I think even the youngest readers can grasp that slavery was “unfair.” “Unfair” is another simplified term but appropriate for, say, grades k through 2 or 3. My own children learned about MLK and Rosa Parks in kindergarten–two heroic people who stood up in the face of racial injustice. I think Kalman’s reference here is open-ended, allowing us (teachers/parents) to steer the conversation. It is our history, after all.


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