Read Aloud Thursday–Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek by Deborah Hopkinson

I first became acquainted with Deborah Hopkinson‘s historical fiction picture books back in the fall of 2009.  My girls and I read and loved Apples to Oregon.  It is the perfect amalgamation of historicity and quirkiness.
Then last year I found Fannie in the Kitchen and loved it just as much; in fact, it inspired me to break out the mixing bowl and griddle!  They say three time’s a charm, and for me and my appreciation for Deborah Hopkinson, it certainly is.  We recently read Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek:  A Tall, Thin Tale, and we all loved it.

Like others of Deborah Hopkinson’s picture books, this one is based on what is purportedly a true story of Abraham Lincoln as a young boy in Kentucky, having fun out in the wilderness with his best friend, Austin Gollaher.  They say that Abe and Austin were out one day and followed some partridges across Knob Creek.  Of course, no one knows exactly what happened, but Abe fell in and Austin got him out of the creek, either by pulling on his shirttail (no pants for these fellas–just long shirts) or just fishing him out with a branch or a pole.  Although the Lincolns left Kentucky not long after this happened, history claims that one “dark day in the midst of the Civil War,” Abe Lincoln said that “he’d rather see Austin Gollaher again than any other living man.”  And Austin lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two and was buried under a tombstone on which is engraved the phrase “Lincoln’s Playmate.”  How about that?

As if the story isn’t interesting enough, the thing that pushes this story over the edge of great and into fabulous territory are the illustrations.  John Hendrix‘s pen-and-ink, watercolor illustrations of the boys are so expressive, and I absolutely love his drawings of the creek in all its whirling, swirling, foreboding beauty.  The first close-up we get of the creek is just before the boys attempt to cross it, and it literally looks like it’s about the flow off the page.  Hendrix also includes some beautiful typography throughout the story that adds another layer of gorgeous detail.   Actually, it’s the inter-play between the text and illustrations that really makes the book extra special–occasionally the narrator of the story will “speak” to the illustrator in the text, and John Hendrix always responds.  Sometimes his response is in the literal inclusion of his drawing hand in the picture; other times, the narrator’s commentary will cause a change to occur in the depicted events of the story.  All of this is to the purpose of questioning the historiography of this tale.  Through the narrator, Hopkinson points out over and over again that no one really knows exactly what happened because no one was there to record the story as it happened.  In other words, much of history depends upon who’s telling it.  I think this is an important thing to talk about with children, and this book makes it fun and easy to do.  If it’s not already obvious, I’m giving this book a Highly, Highly Recommended, and you’d better believe I’ll be on the lookout now for more books illustrated by John Hendrix!  (Stop the presses!  It turns out that John Hendrix is actually an author and illustrator!  He’s one to watch, for sure!)  (Random House, 2008)

Related links:

In case you missed it, I actually interviewed Deborah Hopkinson this week!  (I have a few more interviews to share this week, too, so check back later today and tomorrow for some new stuff!)  I also guest blogged over at Simple Things for Stephanie’s fabulous 31 Days of Reading with Your Children series.  Whew!  It has been a busy week!  🙂

What’s in your read aloud basket this week?  Do tell!

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Read Aloud Thursday–Abraham Lincoln

This post probably isn’t very helpful to anyone because Abraham Lincoln must be the most written-about president we’ve had, but I like to cover all the bases.  Since I wrote about George Washington books last week, here’s my post dedicated to our sixteenth president.  I hope you find a new-to-you gem among these familiar titles!
Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire are a well known author-illustrator couple, of course, and Abraham Lincoln won a Caldecott Medal in 1940.  What’s not to love about this book?  It begins with Lincoln’s birth and covers major events in his life up through the end of the Civil War.  I like that it includes a few fun anecdotes, like Lincoln playing a joke on his stepmother by holding a little boy upside down to put footprints on the ceiling after the new Mrs. Lincoln told tall Abe to keep his head clean so she wouldn’t have to clean spots off her ceiling.  This book captures the spirit of Lincoln very well, both in its story line and its illustrations.  It deals forthrightly with the issue of slavery (although since it was published in 1939 it does use the term Negro, which might be considered objectionable by some), but it does not mention that Lincoln was assassinated.  This is an excellent, longer picture book that does justice to the Great Emancipator.    

Stand Tall, Abraham Lincoln by Judith St. George is a picture book disguised as a chapter book.  🙂  Actually, it’s the sort of chapter book that works very well for children with short attention spans, since each chapter is around five pages long, and each page is only about half-full of text.  The illustrations in this book, done up in an expressive and cartoonish style by Matt Faulkner, are large, colorful, and usually bleed across both pages of a two-page spread.  This book covers only Lincoln’s early life, so the focus is on the hardships he faced and how he overcame them.  This book is one of a four part series called “Turning Point Books.”  Each one is about one of our presidents; you can see all the titles here on her website.    

Abe Lincoln Remembers by Ann Turner is written from Abraham Lincoln’s perspective, as if he were thinking back over his life on the night of his assassination.  According to the author’s note, this is not so much as storybook as  it is a “poetic narrative” for which “some events have been compressed.”  I like this one a lot.  The writing is poetic–

Sometimes I went to school, but

I don’t suppose those days would add up

to much more than a year.

I’d fold up my legs like an umbrella

and sit quiet at the back of the schoolroom,

gulping down learning like water.

The illustrator attribution on the cover indicates that this illustrations are paintings by Wendell Minor.  It is obvious that he took his subject seriously, and of all the books I’m reviewing here, these illustrations are the most realistic in terms of what Lincoln really looked like.  This book doesn’t provide a lot of details, but it really captures the spirit of Lincoln and what he accomplished.

Last we have Abraham Lincoln by Amy L. Cohn and Suzy Schmidt.  This one is a lot of fun but packs a punch in the end.  It’s written in a folksy, storytelling voice that is fun to read aloud:

Abraham read about Aesop’s animals and Aladdin’s lamp and Robinson Crusoe’s shipwreck.  He read about George Washington, our first president.  He read while the plow horse rested.  He read while he ate his lunch.  Late at night, he leaned toward the dying life of the fire with a book in his hand.  “My friend’s the one who has a book I ain’t read yet,” he said, and he’d walk miles for the chance to borrow something new.

David A. Johnson’s illustrations are both muted and expressive, and I love the full-page rendering of the Lincoln Memorial that ends the book.  This book is the only one of the four that addresses Lincoln’s assassination.  As I mentioned before, the ending of this one is quite emotional, at least to me (but I’m a softy, anyway). 

Really, you can’t go wrong with any of these titles.  If these aren’t enough, there’s also Thanksgiving in the White House, which I wrote about in this post.  Alice @ Supratentorial also recommends quite a few Presidents’ Day selections, several of which are about Abraham Lincoln.

Share your family’s latest read aloud by leaving a link to your blog post in the comments, and come back tomorrow for a list of links!

Happy Read Aloud Thursday!

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