In February, in classrooms across the country, educators acknowledge Lincoln’s Birthday and Black History Month, and engage students in conversations about the meaning of these celebrations. The perfect field trip? A walk to the local movie theater to view Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which focuses on the last months of president’s life and the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), which ended slavery.
Back in the classroom, there will be much to discuss, including why the amendment was necessary on the heels of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), the political maneuvering necessary to secure the amendment’s passage, and the medium’s depiction of the event and the historical figures. To further explore the relationships depicted in Lincoln and learn about the film’s production, download the free app Lincoln: Discover the Story (David Rubel and Disney Editions, iBooks, Free, Gr 6 Up). Your students will be intrigued.
Six chapters delve into topics such as the “Players on the Stage of History,” “The Conflict,” and “The President” discussing the Civil War, those who fought for and against the amendment, Lincoln’s presidency, and more. Incorporated into the text are quotes by Lincoln and his contemporaries, archival images, and other primary source material.Throughout the text are black-and-white period photos, sometimes juxtaposed against shots of similar scenes re-created for the film (in color), and embedded videos offering commentary by Spielberg, the actors, and others who worked on the film.
In the videos, Spielberg speaks to Lincoln’s relevancy today as a “most vivid model of a leader, of leadership,” who advocated for “things that we hold dear today.” Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays the president in the movie, comments on Lincoln’s accessibility—the “ever-open door of the White House.” Other actors discuss their research in preparation for their roles—and their challenges—including Sally Field who plays Mary Todd Lincoln, Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley, the “personal modiste” of the First Lady, and David Strathairn as William H. Seward, Lincoln’s the Secretary of State.
Much notice has been paid to the film’s authenticity. In the chapter, “Bringing History to Life” viewers hear from Rick Carter, the production designer, on scouting sets and props, and Joanna Johnston, the costume designer, who dressed the 140-member cast. Johnston mentions Mary Todd Lincoln’s outfits, many of which were “exact replicas” of those she wore in life….” (“For the president, clothing was purely a way of keeping out the weather.”) Ben Burtt’s narrative addresses his quest to “research and record historic sounds” and to re-create those he could from the ticking of the portico clock to the off-screen bombardment of a cannonade. Museum officials allowed Burtt to record the sound of Lincoln’s actual watch, heard in the film.
Page turns and video runs are fluid and readers will be guided through this production by a table of contents and discreetly placed icons. The app ends with a film clip and link to the iTunes page to purchase tracks from the motion picture. In all, a production for fans of the president and the film, and, to be sure, something for visual learners.-Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal.
For some recently published books for students on Lincoln, see Vicki Reutter’s Whiskers, Dreams, and Grave-Robbing Schemes.