Looking at Lincoln

Book Reviews

BCCB:
Kalman, Maira Looking at Lincoln; written and illus. by Maira Kalman. Paulsen/Penguin, 2012 [32p]
ISBN 978-0-399-24039-3 $17.99

Reviewed from galleys R 5-8 yrs

A little girl wandering through the park sights a very tall man in a very tall hat and struggles to place him (“He reminded me of someone . . . ”). The portrait on a five-dollar bill sparks her memory, and she’s off to the library to investigate Abraham Lincoln. The fruits of her research are delivered as a sort of informal oral report to the book’s readers and listeners, meandering quirkily but effectively through the main facts about the sixteenth president’s life and some of the narrator’s ruminations about Lincoln’s personal life and inner thoughts (“I wonder if Mary and Abraham had nicknames for each other”; “He wrote many notes and stuffed them inside his hat. What was he thinking about?”). Although children familiar with Kalman’s work will recognize her bright palette and bold brushwork, here she largely eschews her signature gravity-defying composition in favor of strong, solo images like a vanilla cake (Mary’s specialty), the upholstered rocking chair from Ford’s Theater, and stylized scenes of Lincoln at his home in Salem, Illinois and the horse in Lincoln’s funeral procession with boot backward in its stirrup. A list of sources is included, and notes that coincide with spreads throughout the book offer more detail than the child narrator presents. The intimate, kid-to-kid voice and group-friendly artwork will make this an excellent Presidents Day selection for primary classes or for any child making his or her acquaintance with Honest Abe. EB

Booklist:
Looking at Lincoln.
Kalman, Maira (author).  Illustrated by Maira Kalman.
Jan. 2012. 32p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, hardcover, $17.99 (9780399240393). K-Grade 3.
REVIEW.  First published December 15, 2011 (Booklist).

Just what is Abraham Lincoln’s legacy? In this intimate portrait, a young girl walking in the park passes a man who looks like Lincoln, heads to the library, and dives into research so compelling that she has to share it with us. What follows is an account that hits the familiar notes, embellished with circular, childlike wonderings. We all know about Lincoln’s wife and family. But our narrator wonders if they had nicknames for one another. We know he was consumed with the fight for freedom and justice. But our narrator wonders if he thought about what to get his little son for his birthday, too. The facts are laid out in an austere black typeface and the wonderings in loose, hand-lettered script, with certain words in color for emphasis. Kalman’s primitive polychrome illustrations marry the two narratives into a meaningful whole, combining unexpected color choice and sophisticated composition for powerful emotional impact. Comprehensive endnotes fill in more facts and cite sources, but this is as much a personal impression of Lincoln’s legacy as an informational biography.— Thom Barthelmess

Horn Book Magazine:
Looking at Lincoln
by Maira Kalman; illus. by the author
Primary Paulsen/Penguin 40 pp.
1/12 978-0-399-24039-3 $17.99 g
A young girl walking through a park passes a Lincoln look-alike and begins to wonder about our sixteenth president. “Who was he?” she asks herself. Being a clever girl, she goes to the library (a van Gogh–inspired room) to find out. She discovers facts but gets “lost in the photos of his unusual face. I stared at one. I could look at him forever.” Never pedantic, but through a natural structure that follows the young narrator’s own thought processes, the narrative lists some basic facts she discovers about Lincoln’s life and then moves to her childlike musings, printed in a more casual font, that personalize this account. “I wonder if Mary and Abraham had nicknames for each other. Did she call him Linky? Did he call her Little Plumpy? Maybe.” Other bits of Lincoln lore (objects such as Mary’s vanilla cake and Lincoln’s top hat) inspire further questions. The story gradually becomes more sophisticated, introducing war and slavery, for example, and these musings, still interspersed with questions, conclude with Lincoln’s death. A gloomy funeral scene with the riderless horse is depicted in grays and blacks, a sobering, even startling, note among the profusion of bright gouache illustrations that are as colorful as springtime in Arles. Additional back matter extends the text, but it is the narrator’s concluding words as she faces the Lincoln Memorial that best encourages historical examination: “Look into his beautiful eyes. Just look.” BETTY CARTER

Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine [or Guide, as applicable] by permission of The Horn Book, Inc., www.hbook.com

School Library Journal:
 KALMAN, Maira. Looking at Lincoln. illus. by author. unpaged. bibliog. notes. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Jan. 2012. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24039-3. LC number unavailable.

Gr 2-5–With a breezy conversational style, thick lines, and vivid bulky colors, Kalman provides a unique introduction to our 16th president. She begins by drawing attention to Lincoln’s tall stovepipe hat, the appearance of his face on the $5 bill, and the many (more than 16,000) books written about him. As the narrative continues, the author integrates information about Lincoln’s impoverished childhood, study of law, election as president, Gettysburg address, Emancipation Proclamation, and murder in 1865, while also addressing fascinating lesser-known facts–his run-in with a donkey, favorite kind of cake, and the name of his dog. With each spread, readers will discover unusual and varying visuals: splashy pinks during cherry-blossom season in Washington DC, solemn portraits of Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, a bullet-ridden uniform of a Civil War soldier, the boy Abe reading by the fire, and a riderless horse with boots on backward signaling Lincoln’s death. In an effective and memorable ending, Kalman closes with a Lincoln quote:  “…With malice toward none, with charity for all,” setting the words against a view of the Lincoln Memorial. A list of sources and appended notes add breadth to the presentation. This is a great read-aloud for younger children with lots of possibilities for discussion and a jumping-off point for older readers to motivate their research. Regardless of the number of Lincoln books already on the shelves, librarians will want to add this captivating book to their collections.–Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA

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