Abraham Lincoln is probably Barack Obama's favorite president. Before he became President, Lincoln was a Senator from Illinois. Obama is also a Senator from Illinois. Lincoln believed that it was important for Americans to work together and not fight each other. That is something that Senator Obama believes in, too, and he talks about that in many of his speeches.
In fact, Senator Obama announced that he would run for the presidency on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln made his famous speech that began with these words, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free."
Two of the books featured here are about President Lincoln. All of them are based on true stories and all are recommended by Esme Raji Codell, a dear friend and a great children's author. The text below is excerpted from a longer article (click here) that she wrote for her wonderful blog on children's books, the PlanetEsme blog.
"Work has never been a labor, but an ecstatic delight to my soul. I have worked in my studio not envying kings in their splendor; my mind to me was my kingdom, and my work more than diamonds and rubies. If my encouraging words can help any struggling artist to have new hope, I shall be glad..." --Vinnie Ream
With so many men away fighting the Civil War, women were given new opportunities for employment, and fourteen-year-old Vinnie Ream took on work sorting dead letters in the post office. During her noon breaks, she slipped away to the Washington graveyards, cultivating her gift for sculpture. Realizing "I'll have to make my own opportunity if I ever hope to make art," she apprenticed herself out to a famous artist, who could not deny her talent.
Soon Vinnie reputation spread, and she was able to sculpt the likenesses of haughty congressmen, always putting out into the universe and into their influential ears her dearest wish: to sculpt the face of the brave President Lincoln, whom she often saw walking among the people despite many threats of assassination. Her wish was eventually granted, but bittersweet.
After the deed of John Wilkes Booth, Congress sought to hire a sculptor to create a memorial statue of President Lincoln. Could Vinnie's image of the president as a kind and gentle man compete with other visions of Lincoln as a warrior or saint? Would the bias against her age and gender stop her from giving the gift she wanted to create for her country?
Besides being a tribute to a woman who never gave up, this is an extraordinary story of friendship and admiration, of two parallel lives converging in a way that resonates through all time. The graceful writing in this book lends itself to smooth storytelling, and almost euphoric levels of inspiration. (7 and up)
Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books by Kim Winters, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Simon and Schuster)
They thought he was lazy, this boy who would take a book out of his back pocket to read at the end of each row he'd plow. In fact, bigger things were in store for this young dreamer who was destined to become out 16th president. Readers are treated to a homey glimpse of this hero's boyhood, leaning on his father's lap by the fireside as yarns were spun, splitting wood, shivering with his sister in a drafty log loft. It chronicles both the dark days (like when Abe's mother dies of "milk sickness" when he is nine) and exciting adventures (such as the great wrestling match between him and Jack Armstrong, which was met with cries of "Body slam! Body slam!" by my second grade listeners). The story stops where most others begin, as Lincoln takes his seat at the White House. (6 and up)
George Washington's Teeth by Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora,illustrated by Brock Cole (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
What was the biggest challenge for the father of our country? The invasion of British troops? Winter at Valley Forge? No, it was toothaches that ultimately brought poor George Washington to his knees! Starting at age twenty-four, Washington lost a tooth a year (spitting out two as he crossed the Delaware) and by the time he took office, he had only two chompers left! No wonder he didn't smile for his portraits! Told in witty verse, we follow the immortal general as he battles this mortal and mortifying malady....It is unusual to find history told in a way that is so accessible and compelling to young children. How resonating is this book? After we first read this some years ago, my son came up to me wiggling a tooth and announced joyfully, "Ma! I'm just like George Washington!" (6 and up)
A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of A Tremendous Cheddar by Candace Fleming, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
Jefferson wasn't the only big cheese in the White House in 1801, thanks to the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts. I liked the persistent undertone of the town "downer," Phineas Dobbs, throughout the story ("It can never be done!" "I told you it could never be done!") as the town sought to create a ridiculously enormous cheese, weighing 1,235 pounds! The success of the endeavor suggests that diligence is all that's really necessary to overcome cynicism and make ideas come to fruition...or is it cheesition? Kids will melt over this funny, exciting and true story. (6 and up)
P.S. to Parents: Esme believes that reading -- particularly reading aloud -- is one of the best ways to change that world and "our best hope for equalizing education in America." Visit her website to learn more about how you can change the world through reading!
P.P.S. to Parents: Doesn't the Big Cheese book, above, seem especially appropriate for this election year, when we've seen the triumph of hope -- and hard work -- over cynicism?
~Celeste, Eli's mom