The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary Book Poster Image
The way biographies for children ought to be done.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Lincoln had one of the greatest and most noble characters of any president.

Violence

The book gives details of the major Civil War battles, including numbers dead and wounded, and some of the ways they died. A photo of a multiple hanging. Lincoln is shot, as is his murderer. Children are beaten, slaves are whipped and killed, a man beats another into unconsciousness with a can and cripples him for life.

Sex
Language

The past tense of "s--t" is used once, as is the "N" word.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book gives details of the most brutal and horrific war this country has fought. It doesn't wallow in gore, but the way it is told has a tremendous impact.

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What's the story?

This dual biography of President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary begins with their parents and early lives, and continues through Abraham's death, ending with Mary's. Using a large-format scrapbook form, with loads of photos from the period, pictures of archival documents, clips of speeches, political cartoons, newspaper headlines, boxes with information about the period and the war, jokes, anecdotes, and pungent details, it builds a picture of the life and times of our sixteenth president. Includes bibliography, author's research notes, extensive end notes, and index.

Is it any good?

This is the way biography for children ought to be done. The content is deep, rich, complex, and emotional, and the author shows great respect for the intelligence of her young readers. The scrapbook format, with the information given in snippets of no more than a page or so, loaded with pictures, and with light and dark intermingled, ensures that it never becomes overwhelming. Yet these bits and pieces somehow build in intensity and emotional power, and readers will come away from this with a clear-eyed, unromanticized, yet deeply empathetic view of the president, his much-maligned wife, and the terrible times, both public and private, through which they lived.

The book is not without its flaws, chiefly the poor reproductions of too many of the pictures -- they are simply too small and too dark to see much in some of them. The reproductions of period maps are all well and good, but the reader might long for some large, clear, modern ones to help make sense of some of the information, especially about the war. But overall, this is a brilliant book, told in a style that will grab readers' interest and educate both their minds and hearts about one of our greatest presidents and the terrible war he presided over.

 

From the Book:
From the moment she said "I do, " Mary set out to smooth Abraham's coarse country manners. She railed against her husband's habit of eating peas with his butter knife. She scolded when he chewed with his mouth open. And she raised "merry hell," said one neighbor, when he sat down to supper in his shirtsleeves. Once, he answered the door wearing his holey carpet slippers -- the pair that exposed a big, bony toe. When the refined ladies on the front step finally recovered from their shock, the asked for his wife. Lincoln, in his homespun fashion, replied that "he'd trot the woman out" immediately. This complete breach of manners so enraged Mary, she gave him a tongue-lashing right there in front of the guests.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the view of Mary Lincoln that this biography attempts to counter. Why did people in her own time have such a negative view of her. Why has that view persisted in history books to this day? How do you feel about President and Mrs. Lincoln after reading this. Has your view of them changed?

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