Happy 200th Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

The two hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth has prompted a flood of new books for children.  Barry Denenberg's "Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered" is the most striking.

In an oversize format - a foot and a half tall, and one foot wide - Denenberg has reproduced the look and feel of the memorial edition of a newspaper from Lincoln's era.  Gilt letters on a faux leather binding frame a formal photograph of Lincoln in top hat on the cover.  Inside is a headline from "The National News," proclaiming, "Lincoln Shot, Condition Considered Hopeless."       

Succeeding newspaper pages tell the story of Lincoln's assassination, then Lincoln's boyhood, youth and career as a lawyer and politician.  Denenberg provides a healthy measure of quotes from Lincoln along with a highly readable narrative that covers the Civil War, politics and Lincoln's family life.   Contemporary prints, maps and photographs alongside original art by Christopher Bing make this appealing to browsers ten and up as well as history buffs.

The incomparable Kadir Nelson illustrates Doreen Rappaport's "Abe's Honest Words" with powerful oil paintings that capture Lincoln's character at critical moments in his life.  Illustrations on each double-page spread face a column of text combining Rappaport's poetic words with quotes from Lincoln himself. 

When Lincoln voyages down the Mississippi to New Orleans, she writes, "He walked on cobblestone paths, and along canals, past flowers spilling over lacy iron balconies...but a hideous sight shattered his joy."  Nelson's portrait of a row of enslaved Africans fills the page, while Lincoln observes them from a distance, a look of distress on his face. 

Succeeding pages note his love of reading (""My best friend is the man who'll git me a book I ain't read") and his opposition to slavery ("In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free").  A bibliography, list of websites, and the text of the Gettysburg Address round out a handsome volume for readers nine and up.

Twenty years ago, Russell Freedman's "Lincoln: A Photobiography" became one of the very few children's nonfiction books to win the Newbery Medal.  Now the book has been published as an audiobook, narrated by Robert Petkoff in an unabridged, two and a half hour recording.  Freedman's prose is as clear and compelling as ever, making this a good choice for family listening.  A bonus is the enhanced CD that includes the images that made the original book so eye-catching, as well as an interview with Freedman.

Candace Fleming refers to the Lincolns as the "backwoods boy" and "bluegrass girl" in "The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary."  Using photographs, cartoons, letters and contemporary drawings, she tells the story of a marriage.  Homely details such as Mary's own cake recipe, rarely seen photographs, including one of Lincoln as a toddler, and Fleming's lively text combine in a book that will draw in reluctant and avid readers alike.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery, Lincoln was to make only a few remarks, while the main oration would be given by another.  As Garry Wills writes in his introduction to Michael McCurdy's illustrated edition of "the Gettysburg Address," "In 272 words he gave the battle a higher meaning.  These men died, he said, to make Americans live up to their own beliefs..."  McCurdy's wood engravings offer a somber, dramatic counterpoint to Lincoln's unforgettable speech. 

First published in the 2/10/09 Free Lance-Star newspaper.