These new books about Lincoln are great. Honest!
It's a big year for fans of President Abraham Lincoln. First, in January, the nation noted the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by Lincoln to free American slaves.
Earlier this month, we celebrated Lincoln's 204th birthday, and November marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's stirring Gettysburg Address.
Here's a look at some new books focused on Lincoln:
• In 2010, Kathleen Spale, then a graduate student in library science, was cataloging the archived book collection of the Albert Whitman company when she discovered a book, first published in 1947, that illustrated Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Ms. Spale was immediately struck by the quality of the book, telling Publishers Weekly in a recent interview that she was particularly impressed by the "rich details" of the "epic" illustrations.
She brought the book, illustrated by James Daugherty, to the attention of Albert Whitman editors, who agreed that the book was special and deserved to be reissued -- especially given the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
Whitman editors went to work to prepare the book for reissue, a process that was more time-consuming than they first expected. Whitman art director Nick Tiemersma told Publishers Weekly that he went through each of the five copies of the book discovered in the company's archives and scanned the pages of each one that were in the best condition. In addition, the company purchased two copies of the 1947 book on eBay to help its get a better handle on the illustrations' colors.
"The pages had yellowed, so we had to look at different copies to make sure we got the colors right," said Mr. Tiemersma.
The resulting volume is a stunning reissue of the original book, which is simply titled "Lincoln's Gettysburg Address" (Whitman, $19.99, ages 8 up). The new edition captures the vivid, majestic emotions of Daugherty's illustrations. Those familiar with WPA-style mural art (the art done in public buildings by artists who were part of the Works Progress Administration created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt) will recognize the illustrative style used by Daugherty, who worked as a muralist and also crafted propaganda posters for the federal government during World War I.
In his book, which is presented as an oversized picture book, Daugherty takes Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as the text for 15 two-page spreads. The illustrations show a range of American history from the Founding Fathers to World War II soldiers.
Daugherty published his book two years after the end of World War II, and his introductory note indicates how he connected the Gettysburg Address to that conflict: "After the blasts of wars, above the troubled clamor of uncertain peace, we are listening again to the voice of Gettysburg across the years."
The reissued edition includes a facsimile of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln's handwriting as well as an afterword by Gabor Boritt, a Civil War expert at Gettysburg College, who sets Lincoln's speech in historical perspective for young readers. In addition, there is a final, fascinating section in which each of Daugherty's illustrations is reprinted in miniature and then paired with his comments about them.
Although Daugherty's work is all but forgotten now, he was an award-winning children's book creator when he published "Lincoln's Gettysburg Address." His novel, "Daniel Boone," won the 1940 Newbery Medal. The award is given annually by the American Library Association (ALA) to the best-written children's book.
In 1957, Daugherty won a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations for "Gillespie and the Guards," written by Benjamin Elkin. The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the ALA to the best-illustrated children's book; several Honor -- or runner-up -- books also are usually chosen.
• If your kids think history is boring, then they haven't yet read history books written by Steve Sheinkin. He mixes meticulous research with a "you are there" writing style that plunges readers into the middle of a historical event. It's a rare young reader who isn't engaged by Mr. Sheinkin's ability to bring history alive.
His 2012 book, "Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon," recently won three major awards, including the 2013 Robert Sibert Medal (given annually by the ALA to the best nonfiction book for kids), a 2013 Newbery Honor and the Young Adult Library Services Association's 2013 Non-Fiction Award.
Now Mr. Sheinkin has just published "Lincoln's Grave Robbers" (Scholastic, $16.99, age 10-14), in which he presents a mostly forgotten piece of history in the guise of a true crime novel. In some ways, it's an almost unbelievable tale: In 1876, a group of counterfeiters planned to steal Lincoln's body and use it to ransom their leader, who was being held in prison by the fledging U.S. Secret Service.
He smartly opens his book with a list of the "cast of characters," including lawmen, counterfeiters and "body snatchers." This list allows readers to keep track of the personalities -- many of them larger than life -- who populate the pages of this book, from Benjamin Boyd, regarded as a master counterfeiter, to Mary Todd Lincoln, the president's widow.
Mr. Sheinkin provides history to readers about the beginnings of the Secret Service, the history of counterfeiting, and more. Black-and-white photos scattered throughout the book add further atmosphere and information. Most of all, however, "Lincoln's Grave Robbers" is a ripping good story. History, mystery, body-snatching -- what young reader could ask for more?
• Author Tonya Bolden takes a reader-friendly approach to exploring one of Lincoln's finest achievements in "Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty" (Abrams, $24.95, ages 10-14).
Ms. Bolden divides her story into three parts, and in Parts 1 and 3, her narrative is told in the third-person plural, in the voice of those pushing Lincoln to abolish slavery. In Part 2, she provides a more straightforward look at the political, historical and cultural forces with which Lincoln grappled before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Ms. Bolden makes it clear that Lincoln's path toward the Emancipation Proclamation was filled with challenges from both slave-owners and abolitionists; Lincoln's own evolving opinions about slavery also are highlighted here.
The combination of a riveting narrative with a section of historical perspective makes Ms. Bolden's book a complex and rich page-turner. Readers also will enjoy the book's many photographs, prints, illustrations and other documents, which are presented in a well-designed book printed on high-quality paper.
The book ends with a helpful and detailed Civil War timeline, as well as a glossary, source notes, a bibliography and an index, making "Emancipation Proclamation" a good choice for research as well as for just pleasure reading.
And here's another item for true-blue Lincoln fans, although it's not a book. Running Press has just the thing: a miniature white clay desktop bust of our 16th president. The nifty gift package, the Desktop Lincoln (Running Press, $8.95, ages 8 up), includes a tiny scroll depicting the Gettysburg Address plus a mini-biography of Lincoln.
Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.