Books for Young Readers: Two new books tap into fascination with Lincoln

Two new children's books touch on Lincoln's legacy and shed light on some lesser-known aspects of his life -- and his afterlife

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Two new books tap into fascination with Lincoln

With the box office success of Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," interest in our iconic 16th president is going strong. Two new children's books touch on Lincoln's legacy and shed light on some lesser-known aspects of his life -- and his afterlife.

"Abe Lincoln's Dream" (Roaring Brook Press, $16.99, ages 5-9) is the latest from picture book mastermind Lane Smith.

In this whimsical new tale, schoolgirl Quincy wanders away from her class during a field trip to the White House. She stumbles upon the restless ghost of Abraham Lincoln, who is fretting over an ominous dream.

"It's always the same," he tells her. "I'm on a ship sailing rapidly for some shore I know not where."

Quincy persuades the president to venture away from the White House so she can bring him up to speed on the state of the union.

"A lot has changed since 1865," she assures him.

Together they fly over the country, and Quincy quiets the president's worries with her clear-eyed perspective on the nation's progress.

Mr. Smith's enthralling illustrations and bold typography evoke antique newspaper print as he chronicles the curious meeting between girl and ghost.

The subtle narrative may be too nuanced for younger readers unacquainted with the historical context. But "Abe Lincoln's Dream" is perfect for sharing with children learning about Lincoln's legacy. And it would be a fun unusual choice as part of a Presidents Day curriculum.

With its quiet optimism, witty visual delights and layers of historical trivia, children and adults alike will enjoy this inventive ode to Abe.

Older readers interested in Lincoln can delve into the little known saga of the president's final resting place in Steve Sheinkin's true crime thriller "Lincoln's Grave Robbers" (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 10-14).

It is 1876 -- more than a decade after Lincoln's assassination. The Civil War is long over, but the country still lies in bitter division.

Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden are campaigning for the presidency. The Lincoln Monument in Illinois has been completed, and the president's remains are inside, resting in peace -- for now.

Meanwhile, a major counterfeiting operation is brought to its knees when the newly created Secret Service arrests Ben Boyd, a masterful engraver of fake currency crucial to the criminal ring's activities.

With Boyd in prison, the counterfeiters are out of work. They concoct a bold plan: break into the tomb of Abraham Lincoln, steal the body and hold it for ransom of $200,000 in gold and the release of Ben Boyd.

As the conspirators work out the details, word gets out and makes its way to the Secret Service. Agent Patrick Tyrell hires career criminal Lewis Swegles to act as an undercover agent. This is part of his plan to catch the grave robbers in the act.

Readers encounter many vivid characters along the way, including John Carroll Power, the custodian of the Lincoln Monument who went on to form a secret organization known as the Lincoln Guard of Honor.

Another John -- John English -- is a Chicago Tribune reporter who gets pulled into the Secret Service operation before breaking the story to the press.

The tension mounts to a thrilling climax when all parties converge in the darkness at Lincoln's tomb on the night of the presidential election -- Nov. 7, 1876.

A diligent historian and former teacher, Mr. Sheinkin lays the foundation for this fast-paced plot by balancing background information on the criminal underworld with insight into the workings of the Secret Service.

He provides a list of characters for reference and includes a glossary of phrases from the criminal lexicon. This colorful vocabulary includes words such as "coney" (counterfeit currency), "ghouls" (body snatchers), "roper" (undercover agent) and "bone orchard" (graveyard).

Photos of people and places central to the action accompany the text. Mr. Sheinkin also includes images of primary source documents.

These elements come together to create an engaging historical thriller highly accessible to young readers.

"Lincoln's Grave Robbers" offers a rich experience for anyone interested in this strange episode in history.


Maggie Craig is youth services librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Carrick.

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