I first became acquainted with Deborah Hopkinson‘s historical fiction picture books back in the fall of 2009. My girls and I read and loved Apples to Oregon. It is the perfect amalgamation of historicity and quirkiness.
Then last year I found Fannie in the Kitchen and loved it just as much; in fact, it inspired me to break out the mixing bowl and griddle! They say three time’s a charm, and for me and my appreciation for Deborah Hopkinson, it certainly is. We recently read Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale, and we all loved it.
Like others of Deborah Hopkinson’s picture books, this one is based on what is purportedly a true story of Abraham Lincoln as a young boy in Kentucky, having fun out in the wilderness with his best friend, Austin Gollaher. They say that Abe and Austin were out one day and followed some partridges across Knob Creek. Of course, no one knows exactly what happened, but Abe fell in and Austin got him out of the creek, either by pulling on his shirttail (no pants for these fellas–just long shirts) or just fishing him out with a branch or a pole. Although the Lincolns left Kentucky not long after this happened, history claims that one “dark day in the midst of the Civil War,” Abe Lincoln said that “he’d rather see Austin Gollaher again than any other living man.” And Austin lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two and was buried under a tombstone on which is engraved the phrase “Lincoln’s Playmate.” How about that?
As if the story isn’t interesting enough, the thing that pushes this story over the edge of great and into fabulous territory are the illustrations. John Hendrix‘s pen-and-ink, watercolor illustrations of the boys are so expressive, and I absolutely love his drawings of the creek in all its whirling, swirling, foreboding beauty. The first close-up we get of the creek is just before the boys attempt to cross it, and it literally looks like it’s about the flow off the page. Hendrix also includes some beautiful typography throughout the story that adds another layer of gorgeous detail. Actually, it’s the inter-play between the text and illustrations that really makes the book extra special–occasionally the narrator of the story will “speak” to the illustrator in the text, and John Hendrix always responds. Sometimes his response is in the literal inclusion of his drawing hand in the picture; other times, the narrator’s commentary will cause a change to occur in the depicted events of the story. All of this is to the purpose of questioning the historiography of this tale. Through the narrator, Hopkinson points out over and over again that no one really knows exactly what happened because no one was there to record the story as it happened. In other words, much of history depends upon who’s telling it. I think this is an important thing to talk about with children, and this book makes it fun and easy to do. If it’s not already obvious, I’m giving this book a Highly, Highly Recommended, and you’d better believe I’ll be on the lookout now for more books illustrated by John Hendrix! (Stop the presses! It turns out that John Hendrix is actually an author and illustrator! He’s one to watch, for sure!) (Random House, 2008)
- More picture books about Abraham Lincoln
- Deborah Hopkinson’s website
- John Hendrix’s website (Whatever you do, don’t miss his Drawings in Church. I’ve never seen such interesting sermon notes in my LIFE!)
- John Hendrix’s blog
- Review of Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sara Edmonds, a Civil War Hero at Nonfiction Detectives (This is a Cybils nominee illustrated by none other than John Hendrix, and yes, I will be seeking this book out!)
In case you missed it, I actually interviewed Deborah Hopkinson this week! (I have a few more interviews to share this week, too, so check back later today and tomorrow for some new stuff!) I also guest blogged over at Simple Things for Stephanie’s fabulous 31 Days of Reading with Your Children series. Whew! It has been a busy week!
What’s in your read aloud basket this week? Do tell!