All About Abe: The Lincoln Bicentennial | Focus On

February 12, 2009, is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, but the official bicentennial kickoff is February 11–12, 2008, so we hope that this list will help you get started on planning events and activities. We all know the story of how Lincoln rose from poverty to become the 16th president, penned the Emancipation Proclamation, and preserved the Union. Aside from the facts of his life, much of the lore surrounding the man can be traced back to Carl Sandburg’s biography published in 1926, the poems of Walt Whitman, and the deification bestowed upon him by the press and former detractors after he was assassinated on Good Friday in 1865. Fueled by a kind of mythic yeast, the legend grew to something akin to a tall tale. Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, sought to correct the misinformation in the first biographies by collecting reminiscences of those who knew Lincoln and publishing his own version of the story. Of course, Herndon had his own biases. There are also the opinions of those who considered Lincoln a demon and Lincoln’s own words to consider. As Milton Meltzernoted, there is more published about this one man than anyone short of Jesus or Shakespeare. Since the d’Aulaires won the Caldecott medal for their picture-book biography in 1940, their beatific vision, complete with farm animals attending the rustic scene of Lincoln’s birth, has been the introduction for many. Lincoln’s story is the American ideal defined: the self-made man, the pioneer who became president—and it remains one of the first biographies that American children experience. Given the number of books available, the challenge is only to choose. With historical accuracy a priority, allure, visual impact, voice, and suitability for young people were the decisive criteria for the following selections.


ADLER, David A. A Picture Book of Abraham Lincoln. illus. by John Wallner & Alexandra Wallner. Holiday House. 1990. pap. $6.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-0801-6. K-Gr 2–This very simple picture-book biography features the highlights of Lincoln’s life from birth to death. The illustrators used a pastel palette and childlike style that is reflected in the short, direct sentences. A basic time line lists important dates. Audio version available from Live Oak Media. BLASHFIELD, Jean F. Abraham Lincoln. (Profiles of the Presidents Series). Compass Point. 2002. PLB $23.93. ISBN 978-0-7565-0202-7. Gr 2-5-After opening with an image of the funeral train and a poem written following Lincoln’s assassination, Blashfield returns to the beginning of Lincoln’s story. Highlights from his life provide an overview of significant events and establish his importance in history. A time line chronicling the decades of Lincoln’s life and juxtaposed with world events is worth noting. BRENNER, Martha. Abe Lincoln’s Hat. illus. by Donald Cook. Random. 1994. PLB $11.99. ISBN 978-0-679-94977-0; pap. $3.99. ISBN 978-0-679-84977-3. Gr 1-3-Taking a lighthearted look at a somewhat disorganized man, Brenner describes the supplementary function of Lincoln’s hat as a receptacle for important papers. Lincoln’s life as a lawyer, traveling the circuit and solving cases, is also presented. These stories humanize the legend, showing off his good humor in a manner that Lincoln himself might have appreciated. COHN, Amy L. & Suzy Schmidt. Abraham Lincoln. illus. by David A. Johnson. Scholastic. 2002. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-590-93566-1. Gr 2-4–In this tall book about a tall man, the verse reflects the twang of Lincoln’s Kentucky accent while watercolor images characterize his evolution from country boy to president. The story is more of an outline, with images sharing equal weight on facing pages, to deliver the sense of the individual, a giant among men, as seen in the closing image of the memorial built to honor him in Washington, DC. COLLIER, James Lincoln. The Abraham Lincoln You Never Knew. illus. by Greg Copeland. Children’s Press. 2003. PLB $25.50. ISBN 978-0-516-24348-1; pap. $6.95. ISBN 978-0-516-25835-5. Gr 3-6-Collier humanizes Lincoln by presenting specific information about the difficult life he endured. He explains how pioneer families had only fire as a source of heat and were required to grow or hunt all their food; everyone had to work. Although he covers the most familiar elements of Lincoln’s story, the author’s use of specific details to fill in the facts provides a fresh perspective. HARNESS, Cheryl. Abe Lincoln Goes to Washington 1837-1865. illus. by author. National Geographic. 1997. Tr $18. ISBN 978-0-7922-3736-5; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-0-7922-6906-9. Gr 3-6-The rich illustrated format, including full-page paintings and detailed maps, allows Harness to depict Lincoln’s personal and political life with surprising detail despite the brevity of this book. Her scholarship is obvious, especially in the colorful images that feature Tad and Willie Lincoln’s White House adventures. The intimacy of the paintings humanizes the legend of Lincoln. HARNESS, Cheryl. Young Abe Lincoln: The Frontier Days, 1809-1837. illus. by author. National Geographic. 1998. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-7922-2713-7; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-0-7922-6904-5. Gr 3-5-Opening with the image of a snowbound log cabin, detailed watercolors suggest the environment and family dynamics of Lincoln’s childhood. Harness presents actions and dialogue that might have occurred while following the familiar story line of events, rendering the difficulty of pioneer life in words and pictures. She shows Lincoln off as smart, studious, ambitious, and honest, setting the stage for his future careers. KRENSKY, Stephen. Abe Lincoln and the Muddy Pig. illus. by Gershom Griffith. Aladdin. 2002. pap. $3.99. ISBN 978-0-689-84103-3. K-Gr3-This easy reader with expressive color drawings tells how Lincoln, on his way to make a speech and dressed in his first new suit, stopped to help an animal in distress even though it meant getting dirty. Although the young Lincoln is nervous about his rumpled appearance, he realizes people care more about what he says than how he looks. ST. GEORGE, Judith. Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln. illus. by Matt Faulkner. Philomel. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24174-1. Gr 1-4-St. George conveys a sense of her subject’s formative years by relating important events and salient details that led him to become the man he was. Her conversational, child-friendly narrative touches on Lincoln’s quick wit and love of learning, instilled by his mother; his unspeakable sorrow at her death; and the “pinching times” before the arrival of his kind, book-toting stepmother. Faulkner’s lively watercolors are full of energy, motion, and feeling, capturing the drama, humor, and pathos of the text. TURNER, Ann Warren. Abe Lincoln Remembers. illus. by Wendell Minor. HarperCollins. 2001. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-027577-8; PLB $15.89. ISBN 978-0-06-027578-5; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-06-051107-4. K-Gr 3-Described by the author as a fictional biography, this is a first-person overview of Lincoln’s life in somber verse. Full-page paintings with bold color take Lincoln from log cabin to the White House. The story ends with the war won and Lincoln and Mary ready to go to the theater, and a note describes what happened that night. VAN STEENWYK, Elizabeth. When Abraham Talked to the Trees. illus. by Bill Farnsworth. Eerdmans. 2004. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-8028-5191-8; pap. $8. ISBN 978-0-8028-5233-5. Gr 2-4-Light-dappled paintings of Lincoln’s boyhood in Indiana accompany an inspiring portrayal of his growing ambitions where “reading took last place in his day, but it was always first place in his heart.” Images of a homesteader’s hard life follow Lincoln’s progress as he perfects his skills as an orator and realizes that people, not just trees, might one day listen to his words. WINNICK, Karen B. Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers. Boyds Mills. 1996. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-56397-485-4; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-56397-805-0. Gr 1-4–Using an edited text of the actual letter Grace Bedell wrote to Lincoln and the soon-to-be president’s response, Winnick characterizes the 11-year-old girl whose suggestion caused Lincoln to grow a beard. Folk-style oil paintings fill the pages; one conveys the thought that moon shadows on Lincoln’s picture inspired the girl’s idea as she imagined whiskers would make him look less sad. WINTERS, Kay. Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books. illus. by Nancy Carpenter. S & S. 2003. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-689-82554-5; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-1268-2. PreS-Gr 2-Primitive-style oil paintings are the background for the free-verse descriptions of Lincoln that emphasize his love of books and learning. Loosely based on fact, this heartwarming view focuses on his childhood, revealing the hard lot of pioneers. The book concludes with his election; Lincoln’s role as president is not discussed, and the Civil War is omitted except for a note that addresses these details.

Middle School

BIAL, Raymond. Where Lincoln Walked. Walker. 1998. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8027-8630-2; RTE $17.85. ISBN 978-0-8027-8631-9. Gr 4-8-With vivid color photographs that chronicle the places in Lincoln’s life, including his family home and Springfield law office, this photo-essay brings history alive. Bial uses both text and captions to render his subject, deftly linking the past and the present while inspiring readers to learn and see more. Lists of places to visit and carefully selected books for further reading are included. FREEDMAN, Russell. Lincoln: A Photobiography. Clarion. 1987. RTE $20. ISBN 978-0-89919-380-9; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-0-395-51848-9. Gr 6 Up-Freedman’s voice brings Lincoln to life, making this biography an accessible and fascinating read. Enhanced by numerous historical images and written documents, the focus is on the presidency, events leading up to it, and Lincoln’s struggle to hold the country together. Balance, precision, and scholarship characterize this Newbery award-winning book. HAUGEN, Brenda. Abraham Lincoln: Great American President. (Signature Lives Series). Compass Point. 2006. PLB $30.60. ISBN 978-0-7565-0986-6; pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-0-7565-1850-9. Gr 4-7-Opening with the Emancipation Proclamation, Haugen sets the stage for Lincoln’s significance in American history. Photos, maps, and period illustrations illuminate this broad overview of a complicated man, and a time line sets the story in relation to world events. HERBERT, Janis. Abraham Lincoln for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities. Chicago Review. 2007. pap. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-55652-656-5. Gr 4-8-In addition to activities like making a stovepipe hat, a log cabin, or a freedom quilt, Herbert includes stories of the playful father and storyteller who shook every hand and opened White House doors to all–as well as the Lincoln who suffered throughout the Civil War and worked tirelessly to preserve the Union. This detailed and personal view focuses on Lincoln’s humanity and his accomplishments. KOPS, Deborah. Abraham Lincoln. Gale/Blackbirch. 2001. Tr $21.95. ISBN 978-1-56711-535-2. Gr 5-8-Through a preface describing the differences between the North and South, Kops introduces Lincoln. The first chapter encompasses Lincoln’s early years, and the author then moves to Lincoln’s rise to the presidency. Detailed descriptions of key figures, policies, and the challenges of leading the country through the Civil War are offset by frequent subheads, photos, maps, and insets. NORTH, Sterling. Abe Lincoln: Log Cabin to White House. (Landmark Bks.). Random. 1963. Tr $8.99. ISBN 978-0-394-90361-3. Gr 4-8–A terrific and timeless read-aloud that was originally published in 1956. North weaves together the events of his subject’s life in a storyteller’s voice, providing descriptive context interspersed with quotes from Lincoln and his contemporaries. OTFINOSKI, Steven. Abraham Lincoln: America’s 16th President. (Encyclopedia of Presidents Series). Watts. 2004. PLB $34. ISBN 978-0-516-22887-7. Gr 5-8-Frequent subheads, wide-spaced type, period images, and interesting insets balance the density of the material included. Well-paced and informative, the text also addresses the impact of Lincoln’s death on the country and his family. Otfinoski does not shy away from the complexity of his subject, but presents details in manageable bites, concluding with a list of fast facts and a time line. SLAVICEK, Louise Chipley. Abraham Lincoln. (Great American Presidents Series). Chelsea House. 2004. PLB $ 30. 978-0-7910-7605-7. Gr 6-9-The primary focus is on Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War. Discussion of the escalating hostilities between the North and the South suggests the causes of the war and Lincoln’s challenge to consider the law and his own moral outlook. Photo captions, sidebars, and maps provide a general overview while the text delivers more specifics. STONE, Tanya Lee. Abraham Lincoln: A Photographic Story of a Life. DK. 2005. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-7566-0833-0; pap. $4.99. ISBN 978-0-7566-0834-7. Gr 5-9-With a focus on Lincoln’s work as president, Stone notes that even primary sources can be biased. Boxed insets offer short bios, explain some of the politics of the time, and give additional facts about Lincoln’s presidency, such as the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. A rich resource despite its small size.

High School

AXELROD, Alan. Lincoln’s Last Night: Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and the Last Thirty-Six Hours Before the Assassination. Penguin. 2005. pap. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-59609-016-3. Gr 8 Up-While bordering on the sensational, Axelrod’s description of Lincoln’s last day and Booth’s developing plot offers carefully researched facts and theories. With an investigative approach that details the events, conversations, and busyness of Lincoln’s final hours, drama is achieved despite the familiar climax. A portfolio of reproductions, including news clippings and a Confederate five dollar bill from Lincoln’s wallet, adds interest. DONALD, David Herbert. Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era. 3rd ed. Knopf. 2001. pap. $13. ISBN 978-0-375-72532-6. Gr 10 Up-This collection of essays written in the mid-20th century and first published in 1956 reexamines the lore surrounding Lincoln. The large cast may challenge students to remember who’s who, but the tone and scholarship of these selections will enlighten serious students. Donald questions the myths and “reconsiders” the evidence to present new premises. This critical examination is a great enticement for the skeptical. HOLZER, Harold, ed. Lincoln As I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes & Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies. Algonquin. 1999. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-56512-166-9. Gr 7 Up-This scholar attempts to present an honest portrait of the 16th president by assembling the comments of Lincoln’s contemporaries. From disparaging to admiring, the comments of family members, friends, and acquaintances–professional and personal–provide insight beyond the usual laudatory descriptions. The candid quality of this assemblage results in a useful source for unusual insights. MARRIN, Albert. Commander in Chief: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Dutton. 1997. Tr $25. ISBN 978-0-525-45822-7; pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-0-525-47069-4. Gr 8 Up-Facts and details add color and context to this biography. Specific descriptions of the Civil War reveal Lincoln’s angst, and the prologue explains the cost of the war in lives and dollars. The success of Whitney’s cotton gin and a definition of racism are presented as economic and political reasons for the continuation of slavery. Addressing the “whys” allows students to understand the story more broadly. Audio version available from Recorded Books. MELTZER, Milton, ed. Lincoln: In His Own Words. illus. by Stephen Alcorn. Harcourt. 1993. Tr $22.95. ISBN 978-0-15-245437-1. Gr 7 Up-Meltzer provides the opportunity to examine Lincoln’s life through carefully selected excerpts from his writings and speeches, confirming the man’s exceptional qualities as a wordsmith and a statesman. Stunning full-page woodblock prints add visual appeal. MILLER, William Lee. Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography. Knopf. 2003. Tr $32.50. ISBN 978-0-375-40158-9; pap. $15.95. ISBN 978-0-375-70173-3. Gr 10 Up-Miller details his subject’s life as he explores his moral character and examines whether Lincoln was as exceptional as the legends imply. While occasionally preachy and often dense, the book distinguishes itself by the thoroughness of the research. With chapter headings such as, “Who is this fellow? He is smarter than he looks,” students will be enticed but may find the book more useful in smaller chunks. OATES, Stephen B. Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths. HarperCollins. 1994. pap. $14.95. ISBN 978-0-06-092472-0. Gr 9 Up-Oates juxtaposes the myths and facts of Lincoln’s life to offer a balanced view of the man outside the superhuman status. He also addresses the countermyths of Lincoln as a demon and revisionist theories. He considers Southern attitudes, Sandburg’s version, and facts revealed by modern Lincoln scholarship for an accessible and engaging work.
Janet Thompson is a Children’s Librarian with the Chicago Public Library.

On the Web

Resources for Teachers

Lincoln Bicentennial 1809-2009: Live the Legacy. The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (ALBC). Washington, DC. (Accessed 12/23/07) Focused on promoting and inspiring modern efforts to uphold Lincoln’s ideals, this site commemorates the 200th anniversary of his birth. Links include lesson plans, facts about Lincoln’s life, and bicentennial programs countrywide. Lincoln/Net. Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project. Northern Illinois University. DeKalb, IL (Accessed 12/23/07) A collaboration among significant Illinois institutions, including The Newberry Library in Chicago and the Chicago Historical Society, this site provides online access to selected primary-source materials including books, manuscripts, images, and maps. Lesson plans offer links to audio and video files for classroom use.

Resources for Students

The American Presidency. Scholastic Library Publishing, Inc. (Accessed 12/23/07) Gr 2-8– Links to four Grolier encyclopedias, including the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia and America the Beautiful, provide biographical articles, facts, profiles, media, and quizzes on Lincoln and other presidents. Simple navigation and a specific focus on the presidents makes for easy access. Lincoln Home National Historic Site. National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. (Accessed 12/23/07) Gr 4 Up– Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois is the subject of this site that presents biographical information about Lincoln and his family along with access to texts of speeches, photographic tours of Lincoln’s neighborhood, and lesson ideas. Meet Amazing Americans: U.S. Presidents: Abraham Lincoln. America’s Story from America’s Library. Library of Congress. Washington, DC. (Accessed 12/23/07) Gr 2-6 –This kid-friendly site offers biographical information, quick facts, suggested books, stories about Lincoln, and some primary documents.


By Phyllis Levy Mandell A. Lincoln and Me. video or DVD. 14 min. with tchr’s. guide. Nutmeg Media ( 2005. video, ISBN 0-9761981-1-8: $49.95; DVD: ISBN 0-9771515-3-4: $49.95. K-Gr 3–Louise Borden’s simple tale (Scholastic, 1999) about a boy who shares his February 12th birthday with Abe Lincoln, as well as some the man’s physical traits (big clumsy hands and feet, skinny as a beanpole). Children will appreciate the story of someone who didn’t let teasing keep him from greatness while at the same time learning something about our 16th president. Abraham Lincoln (Great Americans for Children Series). video or DVD. 23 min. with tchr’s. guide. Prod. by Schlessinger Media. Dist. by Library Video Co. ( 2003. $29.95. K-Gr 4–Excellent reenactments and historical photos chronicle Lincoln’s accomplishments and show how he helped to shape our nation. The “news from the field” segment, in which a reporter presents information in a contemporary TV news style, is particularly engaging. Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America. CD. approx. 70 min. Greathall Prods. ( 2004. ISBN 2-882513-84-3. $13.45. Gr 3-6–This biography of our 16th president comes to life with master storyteller Jim Weiss’s narration. Weiss introduces the individuals who played important roles in Lincoln’s life, such as Mary Todd and and Stephen Douglas, and does a good job of uncovering lesser-known facts and anecdotes about Lincoln. The Gettysburg Address is read in its entirety. Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln: The Story of the Gettysburg Address. video or DVD. 18 min. with tchr’s. guide. Weston Woods ( 1999. video, ISBN 978-0-7882-0323-7: $39.95; DVD, ISBN 978-0-439-90433-9: $59.95. Gr 2-6–Based on the book (Grossett, 1993) by Jean Fritz, this film presents the story behind one of the most famous speeches in American history. At the end of the film, the Gettysburg Address is read in its entirety. Charles Robinson’s watercolor-and-ink illustrations, as well as historical photos and paintings, are scanned iconographically. Period music and sound effects enhance the production. Lincoln and Lee at Antietam: The Cost of Freedom. DVD. 90 min. Inecom Entertainment ( 2005. ISBN 1-59218-031-0. $24.95. Gr 9 Up–This presentation utilizes vintage still photos, live-action reenactments of combat, and interviews with historians and scholars to underscore the importance of the battle fought in Sharpsburg, Maryland, in 1862 to the course of the Civil War. Antietam gave President Lincoln the opportunity to present the Emancipation Proclamation in the context of a huge military victory.

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