Sunday, February 14, 2016


With President's Day upon us, people are pulling out picture books about Lincoln, like Maira Kalman's Looking at Lincoln. The child in the book reveres Lincoln. Most Americans do, I think, but what we know about him is... incomplete.

What do you know about Lincoln and Native peoples?

Most people do not know that he issued an order for the mass execution of 38 Dakota men. It was the largest mass execution in the United States. That is not included in Kalman's book.

Is mass execution not age appropriate? Violence is ok, as these pages demonstrate.

One page shows a uniform with a bullet hole in it:

And there's a page showing a numbered grave:

And Kalman includes a page about Lincoln's assassination:

So.... what to make of decisions of what to include, and what not to include. Of course, her book--or any book--can't include everything. True enough, but I wonder what we'd find if we started looking carefully. Would we find it in any books?

Earlier in the book, the little girl goes to a library and finds out there's over 16,000 books about him. I wonder how many of those are for children and young adults, and of them, I wonder if any of them include that mass execution?

What do you think about what is included, and what is not included?


Grant Thomas said...

Thank you for bringing this to my attention, as I was not aware of it. I was just about to write a post about some president's day books that point out the difficulty of combing through legends and multiple historical accounts that sometimes contradict each other.

At what point in Lincoln's presidency did he issue the order? It seems as though his ideas evolved throughout the course of his presidency and I wonder if this in the earlier part of his career.

My twin daughters, who are 5, love "Looking At Lincoln". We have been reading it since they were three. In the past I skipped the Gettysburg and assassination passages. This year I began reading the whole thing.

I do appreciate that the author including the following:
-"Terrible things happen in a war." This is a good contrast to the glorification of war that I see prevalent in the culture.
-"During his presidency he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the first official step toward freeing millions of slaves." This is true. Often school children are taught that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves, but in reality it freed slaves in the states still in rebellion to the Union.

Ultimately, I think Lincoln is continued to be revered, because he fits our culture's romance with the "self-made man".

Beverly Slapin said...

Hi, Grant. Something else you might want to know about Lincoln's sentiments about slavery. In his letter to Horace Greeley in 1862, he wrote: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."

Julie said...

I don't think one book can do it all. I haven't read the Kalman book but from what is presented here it looks like it deals with violence in a way that isn't exploitative but leaves room for adults reading the book with young children (and picture books are meant to be read aloud) to discuss it together. Based on the professional reviews I read, it sounds like it is brief, the pictures work together with the text to tell the story, and it may emphasize the personal aspects of Lincoln's life over the professional. It strikes me that a book about Lincoln's involvement with the hanging of 38 Dakota men is a book for a talented author and/or author-illustrator who has an interest in the subject and, if the book were for preschool or primary-grade children, knowledge of their concerns, interests and understandings of the world.

Julie said...

P.S. My library is closed today due to inclement weather. I'll check out the book and read it ASAP.

Sam Juliano said...

Well, I do understand why you would pose this question Debbie. I own the Kalman book as I do many other volumes on my favorite human being of all time. I acknowledged your (rightful) previous issues with the racists d'Aulaire book, but of course the Kalman isn't ubiquitous for what it included, rather what it did not cover. A few questions were sent my way recently on a picture book I reviewed on John Muir, which were pointedly about his own brand of racism which is left out of some of books about his life. I do not mean to downplay Lincoln's order or its implications, and I fully understand why you would question it, but Kalman's book is simple, focusing on the traits and landmark decisions that have made Abe Lincoln the most venerated of Americans. I honestly do not recall this most eye-opening incident as being included in my own two favorite Lincoln biographies (The Putitzer prize winner by David Herbert Donald or New York Times bestseller by Ronald C. White Jr.) but I have the volumes in front of me and will investigate. I would have thought this would have stayed with me, but perhaps not. If prominent Lincoln scholars, who are looking for completism would not discuss this, I couldn't conceive of Kalman, with her young age focus to take it on. But it is certainly a most significant question and topic on a week when we are attuned to his greatness. As far as mass murder, well, yes that is quite a leap from the uniform bullet holes in any event.

Anonymous said...

This order by Lincoln should be included in discussions of his life. However, it should also be noted that the original convictions called for 300 executions, and that Lincoln's order reduced the number to 38.

koyoda said...

It was called " manifest destiny" a reward for killing each other, Civil WAR, Lincoln gave " land grap for free " Oklahoma Remenber , in other words after the US Goverment Gave , Stolen LAND from the RED RACE , the US Goverments takes it back for OIL ,,and the rest is " whitewash history" oh your not find that in most literary or Library. However the Youths of American yearn for the " TRUTH" that's the only way....blessing..