I am thrilled that I have finally found a subject to write my first book on. The subject is a biography of a person I have admired for many years. I seriously considered naming my child after this person. Unfortunately, there were way too many others giving their child this first name (not necessarily because of this historical person though). I will reveal my subject once I get a draft done. :)
I have read some really fantastic biographies lately. Russell Freedman has always been, to me, the epitome of great biographical writing for children. As I am preparing to begin work on my first biography, I turned to his works. This week I reread Lincoln: A Photobiography.
Freedman has amazing storytelling skills. As I read, I felt as if Lincoln’s life was unfolding before me. Often, he is painted heroically, larger than life, savior of the union, champion of freedom. These things are no doubt true of him. Lincoln is much more. Most know he came from humble beginnings, but even into adulthood he struggled with many of our contemporary issues—depression, rejections, debt, money problems, malicious gossip, loss, failure, and feelings of inadequacy. More than anything, he should be admired for overcoming these often overwhelming adversities. No doubt they each had an impact on him that prodded him to succeed to the highest office and to become a man of great compassion and diplomacy.
Freedman uses photographs in his story telling. Each one gives a glimpse of Lincoln, his loved ones, his rivals, and his world. Several depict soldiers—planning, fighting, and dying on the battlefield. Surely, the war and its losses weighed heavily on a man who experienced it all too often at a personal level. Also, there are some popular political cartoons berating him. In one he is depicted as a villainous coward sneaking into Washington for his inauguration. Another one portrays him childishly playing tug-a-war with a map—a poke at him fighting over the union. The illustrations add depth and reveal the criticism he faced and the complex political climate he navigated through.
Freedman uses quotes effectively. Seamlessly, quotes by Lincoln and others of his time are interwoven to make this narrative personal and poignant. For instance, when discussing Lincoln’s inner-conflict on when and how to free the slaves, quotes are interspersed that reveal both sides of the issue. Eventually, Lincoln decides: “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves…In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.” Shortly after, he declared his view and policy in the Emancipation Proclamation.
It is difficult to read this book and not develop an even deeper respect for our 16th president. This respect does not merely occur because of his outstanding words and acts that made him famous. Instead, it comes from his quiet struggles, his personal growth, his courage of conviction, and his great love for his family. I highly recommend Lincoln: A Photobiography for ages 8 and up.