Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in the backwoods of Kentucky. His father believed in the value of hard work, not book learning. Lincoln suffered many losses in his life: his mother died when he was a young boy, his sister died in childbirth, his first love died before they could marry, and two of his sons died in childhood. After each loss, he would struggle to keep going forward in his life.
Although Lincoln’s mother died when he was young, he developed a close relationship to his father’s second wife, a woman who encouraged him to go to school or at least read everything he could get his hands on. Lincoln was very entrepreneurial, working as a store owner and teaching himself law. When he moved to Illinois as a young man, he ran for his first political office.
Lincoln rose to national prominence after a series of debates with Stephen Douglas when they were both running for Senate. While Lincoln lost that election, it brought him national attention and he became the Republican candidate for President. As soon as Lincoln won the presidency, he was faced with the secession of South Carolina and the Civil War.
This is a very sanitized version of Lincoln’s life. I know it is for kids, but it doesn’t even hint at complexity. Slavery is presented as being because Southerners were too cheap and lazy to do the work themselves or to pay wages. Period. The slaves themselves are generally drawn in loincloths and with slightly misshapen heads. Very “Noble Savage”-esque. Lincoln himself is portrayed as having always been against slavery, his only worry being what he, one man, could do. Not until he was president (which he apparently won on an antislavery platform alone) was he able to act on these generous feelings. There is no hint that slavery is a complicated economic and social issue based on years of tradition and that it was built into the very fabric of our culture. Additionally, it doesn’t explain that the Republican Party of Lincoln’s time is not the same as the Republican Party of today. I know this book is an introduction for kids, but I’d have loved a hint, or even an afterward, letting readers know that these were complicated issues that still have repercussions today.
The book does give some good basic facts about his life. It traces his family’s travels, his mother’s death, his first positive relationship with his stepmother, the death of his sister, and then of his sons. It touches on his depression, mostly by saying that these deaths left him extremely sad and unable to function well for months. It mentions the debates with Stephen Douglas, which didn’t win him a seat in the Senate, but did bring him to national attention.
The art is fine. Campfire Graphics is an imprint out of India whose motivation is to bring classic literature and famous biographies to a new audience. But they are not doing anything new or innovative with the graphic medium. They use mostly realistic drawing and coloring that is functional, but not inspiring. While I admire Campfire Graphics’ goals, I find their publications a little hit or miss. And this one is a miss.
Abraham Lincoln: From the Log Cabin to the White House
by Lewis Helfand
Art by Manikandan
Campfire Graphics, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: Grade 6-9