Looking at Lincoln
Looking at Lincoln
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Maira Kalman
ISBN 9780399240393
Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin , 2012.
5 stars
Keywords: abraham-lincoln biography looking-lincoln maira-kalman presidents washington

Looking at Lincoln
by Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman’s (Next Stop Grand Central) gift for choosing the telling detail as a way into her stories feels especially well suited to a picture-book biography of Abraham Lincoln.

The narrator is on her way to breakfast when she sees “a very tall man” who “reminded me of someone, but I could not think who.” As she pays for her pancakes “with a Lincoln and two Washingtons” (a five-dollar bill and two one-dollar bills), she realizes the man she had passed looked just like Abraham Lincoln. Thus begins her quest to learn more about our 16th president. The seeds of this project began with a blog Kalman did for the New York Times. But the crafting of the scenes she has selected, rendered in her signature gouache, make this a moving homage.

Kalman zooms in on the kinds of quirky trivia that kids will devour: vanilla cake was Lincoln’s favorite, and he always had an apple on his desk—though “he was often too busy thinking to eat” —and with his hat on, Lincoln was seven feet tall. But she also mentions milestone events, such as the president’s meetings with Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, as well as his Gettysburg Address. The cumulative effect of the details Kalman selects delivers an emotional wallop of an ending. The narrator escorts us past the capitol’s cherry trees in full blossom, to the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, and says, “You can look into his beautiful eyes. Just look.” Your children will feel as though they’re standing alongside her and that they, too, can see President Lincoln more clearly. A touching and personal tribute.

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

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