Commander in Song

Our Abe Lincoln: An Old Tune with New Lyrics
Adapted by Jim Aylesworth
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Scholastic Press, New York, 2009, $16.99)

For generations, educators have used music to teach children facts and concepts. In Our Abe Lincoln, Jim Aylesworth adapts a Lincoln campaign ditty to teach young readers about the sixteenth president of the United States. Sung to the tune of “The Old Grey Mare,” the song summarizes Lincoln’s life, starting with his birth in a log cabin, extols his virtues, and highlights his accomplishments.

Barbara McClintock’s illustrations complement the rousing tune. Instead of drawings of Lincoln, she gives us a little boy dressed as Honest Abe for a school play. The boy and his classmates appear in various tableaux of the president’s life. The result is gently amusing – it’s impossible not to laugh at a child in a beard – and occasionally poignant, especially when readers see the Civil War weighing heavily on Lincoln’s mind. McClintock might have used the stage as a device to make the biography accessible to children. However, her stage sets and pint-sized actors make the book equally appealing to adults.

Our Abe Lincoln is a lively introduction to one of history’s most popular presidents. An excellent book for parents to read aloud, the biography should prompt children to ask questions about Lincoln’s life and presidency. Adults will enjoy sharing this book with children, even those who can read for themselves.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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