Book Beat

Linkin’ Lincoln and Obama

by Frank Lipsius

With Feb. 12, 2009 being the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, the publishing industry lucked out in putting such effort into producing books about the 16th president, when President Obama feels such a kinship with his Illinois predecessor.

The publishers did such a good job of having books on Lincoln available for Presidents Day that not only do Lincoln books range for all ages, but it’s even hard to find new books on fellow Presidents Day honoree George Washington.

Impressive Reference
Older readers can feast on Candace Fleming’s The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary (Schwartz & Wade, $24.99), an impressive, highly illustrated reference and narrative about the whole Civil War era as well as the Lincoln clan. Its photos and reproductions of contemporary publications add the flavor of the times to the author’s skillful choice of subjects, which range from climactic Civil War battles to the growth of political cartoons.

For younger readers, Doreen Rappaport’s Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Hyperion, $16.99) presents an impressive picture-book version of Lincoln’s life with some of his most famous quotes. With handsome, bold-colored illustrations by Kadir Nelson, it makes a good companion to other picture books that tend to focus on single incidents (often featuring Abe as a child) that lack the context to make the incidents significant.

Chester County author Jen Bryant tells of six-year-old Abe’s being kind to a soldier returning home from the War of 1812 in Abe’s Fish: A Boyhood Tale of Abraham Lincoln (Sterling, $15.95), with pleasant coonskin-cap rustic illustrations by Amy June Bates.

Author Deborah Hopkinson and illustrator John Hendrix take a novel approach in their picture book, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Schwartz & Wade, $16.99). Emphasizing how little is really known about Lincoln’s childhood, they imagine and re-imagine an incident when Abe’s friend Austin Gollaher saves the 7-year-old future president from drowning while they crossed a creek.

Life in the White House is amusingly depicted in Staton Rabin’s Mr. Lincoln’s Boys (Viking, $16.99), a picture book realistically drawn by Bagram Ibatoulline that touchingly tells the true story of the president giving his boys’ doll a pardon with the solemnity of a real presidential act.

President Obama’s inauguration within a month of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth only emphasizes the other ties between them — serving in Congress from Illinois, arriving in the White House with the country in crisis and creating crucial milestones for African-Americans in the U.S.

With President Obama conscious of their ties and modeling himself on his predecessor, we can only hope that they will both be looked back on as great presidents. Certainly the Obama childhood in Indonesia, Hawaii and Kansas should help future picture-book writers encourage interest in the childhood of our most international and, if we are very lucky, perhaps one of our most successful presidents.

Frank Lipsius is a contributing writer to MetroKids.