Saturday, May 12, 2012

Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship

by Russell Freedman   
Clarion Books | June 19, 2012 | pre-order now!

Russell Freedman won the Newbery Medal in 1988 for Abraham Lincoln: A Photobiography. (There have been very few nonfiction books that have won the Newbery since it's inception in 1922, by the way.) There are also thousands of books about Lincoln - he's in the top five of the most written about people of all-time (or something like that).  

Freedman has returned to Lincoln in this new book, this time focusing on his “brief but telling friendship with Frederick Douglass.” It's a fantastic look at both men, their backgrounds, and how their extraordinary lives intersected.

Opening with Douglass’s visit to the White House to request audience with Lincoln during the height of the Civil War in 1863 and then backtracking to give history of both men, highlighting the parallels, the text is succinct and organized. Historical illustrations, photographs, daguerreotypes, political cartoons, and reproductions from books support the text, each credited fully in Freedman’s classic manner. Anyone who has read Douglass's autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave will recognize salient details in Freedman's text, as he deftly makes Douglass's life story accessible for younger readers.

Some readers might wish for a stronger thread of the friendship story touted by the title throughout the text, while others may not even notice the time it takes to get to the heart of Lincoln and Douglass’s relationship. The brevity of the friendship doesn’t belie the strength of it, as evidenced by Mary Todd Lincoln’s bequeath to Douglass after her husband’s assassination: “…[Lincoln] had wanted to do something special to express his warm personal regard…Mary had decided to send Douglass her husband’s favorite walking stick as a memento of their friendship.”  And now Freedman has honored that same friendship with this well-researched book for young people. 

A list of historic sites, selected bibliography, notes and picture credits make for thorough back matter.This is a great one for middle-grade readers just discovering Lincoln and Douglass or for high-schoolers looking for multiple sources for longer reports or papers.

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