Monday, February 17, 2014

I Am Abraham Lincoln by Brad Meltzer

I Am Abraham Lincoln (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

Rating: 3.5 stars

This book is smaller than most picture books.  Rather than standing the usual 12 or 14 inches, and being a standard rectangle, this book is a small square, about 6 by 6 inches.  That smaller-than-normal stature is ironic because by its contents, it is a bigger-than-normal book.

Meltzer (a thriller and mystery novelist who also hosts "Decoded" on the History channel) aimed to create a biography series of individuals that should and could be the heroes for today's children.  Right now, the Ordinary People Change the World series has two published books--Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, and one soon-to-be-published Rosa Parks.  As a proven author, I'm betting that Meltzer will write at least a dozen.

I think he does a pretty good job of packing in a LOT of information in this book that's aimed for 5-8 year olds.  He teaches about Lincoln's young life; he includes a specific example of how Lincoln steps in to stop a group of boys torturing (my word, not his) a poor turtle.  Courageously, he spoke up, and demanded the turtle be released.  "When you're ten years old, it's hard to do the right thing.  But someone has to."

Another vignette Meltzer includes: when Lincoln was 22, a gang of bullies challenged him to a fight.  Lincoln lost, and was angry about the fight--not because he lost, but because his opponent had cheated. He called him out on his poor sportsmanship, calmly and confidently pointing out that he'd fight all of them if he had to.  "Sometimes the hardest fights don't reveal a winner--but they do reveal character.  Especially when you're fighting for something you believe in."
I preferred to read.

The book includes the tough and true topics of slavery and war (but not of assassination), which is to be expected in a book about Lincoln.  With Lorelei we've discussed these topics, but with Ben we've only begun to explain the definition of the words, let alone the heartache they caused both then and now. The book ends by teaching kids how Lincoln used words in Gettysburg ("all men are created equal") and elsewhere to explain his personal conviction and, ultimately, to change the law that ended slavery.

I'm trying to put a finger on what it is about this book that makes it not resonate with me.  I'm not a fan of comic books, and the illustrated Abraham Lincoln in this book is a kid version of the adult--he's small but has a beard and top hat from age 6 to age 60, so...the missing aging process is a little odd to me.  The book is told in first person; I think it's pretty gutsy to actually put words in a man like Lincoln's mouth.  I'm not such a fan of that (but would kids really care? Probably not).  Meltzer is VERY preachy, taking a few pages at the end to talk about how "strength takes many forms.  But there's nothing quite as strong as standing up for someone who needs it." Maybe it is preachy for me as an adult reader, but on par for 6- and 7-year old readers?

Even though I think this book is just okay, I certainly support a Ordinary People Change the World series.  I like how Meltzer starts Lincoln's story--and his conviction, his practice of sticking up for people or animals that can't speak for themselves, his love of words--as a child.  I love that my kids can glance towards their future and wonder where they'll end up.  I know I sure wonder, too.

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