Monday, March 20, 2017

Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman [1988]

My Rating: 7.5/10

Quick Summary: A photograph heavy, middle grade level biography of President Abraham Lincoln.

Wow, it's been several years since I drifted away from my Newbery reading project, and I stumbled back into it by accident.  I didn't even realize this was a Newbery winner until I'd already finished reading it, and was suddenly reminded of my long forgotten blog.  I was just out to find a decent book about Lincoln for my twelve year old niece, and after a cursory search, this seemed like the best option, so I checked it out of the library.  It was only as I was writing a quick review on Goodreads that I realized it was on the list, and that I ought to throw it on here, completely out of order though it may be.

I've read a couple of adult biographies of Lincoln recently, so I was in good shape to gauge how successful a biography this is, and I have to say I'm fairly impressed.  The author managed to find just the right style in which to convey information at an age appropriate level without ever sounding condescending.  He does a good job of covering the important facets of Lincoln's life in a fairly short book, and he doesn't avoid the difficult and less pleasant aspects.  There's a good balance to the photos included; they don't overwhelm the text, but enhance it, and I love that Lincoln's own thoughts on some of his portraits are included.

My only personal critiques of the book were:

1) I felt that Freedman didn't get around to really highlighting what made Lincoln such an amazing leader and president.  Honestly, I felt like there was more included about why so many people hated him during his presidency.

2) The author didn't bother to include the entirety of either the Gettysburg Address or the Second Inaugural Address, despite having a whole separate section at the end dedicated to quotes by Lincoln, and despite the fact that neither are all that long.  They are both such important speeches, and having only excerpts made it feel like something important was missing.

In terms of evaluating this as a Newbery Medallist, I'm no longer doing these in order, so I feel like I've lost a bit of context, but going back to my old train of thought from years ago, I'm not sure how much broad appeal this one has.  It's non-fiction (the first non-fiction book I've reviewed as part of this project), and it's a biography of a long-dead white guy who kids will already hear about in history class.  That being said, there are plenty of kids who love non-fiction and biographies, and this is an age appropriate text that doesn't talk down or candy-coat, which is pretty impressive.