It's Day 25 of Picture Book Month. Today I'm thinking about history. Picture books are a terrific way for us to introduce young children to historical events and people, in a way that is accessible and relatable for them. They are also an important way to make connections between events of the past and our lives now. After all, history influences many parts of our daily interactions, our belief systems, our freedoms to live our daily lives.
Of course nonfiction picture books are one way to introduce kids to history, but there are also loads of fictionalized biographies and imaginative stories that do the same thing. Some of these include made-up scenarios and personas, but lest you reject these titles for those reasons, consider how much we as adults can glean from historical fiction or movie dramatizations. Sure, not every aspect is strictly true, but in the sense that these types of materials bring past events to life and help point out the relevance of history to modern-day existence, they can be enormously valuable when used in specific contexts.
Today's pick is phenomenal not only for its take on one of our greatest Presidents, but also for its imagination and heart. Lane Smith is a legend in kidlit circles, and with his latest effort, Abe Lincoln's Dream, he has once again produced a book that will both delight and inspire. Quincy is a young African American girl who's touring the White House with her class. She stumbles on the figure of a tall man in a black suit and stovepipe hat: Abe Lincoln, of course. It's soon revealed that Lincoln is a ghost, but not a scary sort -- he's hanging around because he wants to know how everything turned out in modern-day America.
The unlikely pair goes on an aerial tour of the nation. Lincoln queries Quincy about various states of the Union ("And equality for all?" Lincoln wants to know; "It's getting better all the time." Quincy replies). At the end of their journey, Quincy takes Lincoln to the moon, where he's astonished to see an American flag. And at last, it seems, the President is able to rest in peace.
Abe Lincoln's Dream is beautifully illustrated, with a bold design component that's stunning. Visually there are so many striking elements: the long-legged President strolling through the White House Rose Garden, Quincy and Lincoln soaring over the Statue of Liberty, and the final spread of Lincoln sailing away on the River Queen. Throughout the narrative, there are lots of significant historical elements, which provide plenty of opportunities to talk and think about these things with young readers. But this is the kind of title that older kids would enjoy as well -- not only is it powerful to look at, it's also a book that functions on many different layers.
This is an imaginative story that's as much a tribute to a beloved President as it is a celebration of all our nation stands for. Lane Smith has once again given us a wholly original, fully realized picture book that all ages will enjoy.
Abe Lincoln's Dream by Lane Smith, published by Roaring Brook Press