If I were more clever I would have timed this post to coincide with Presidents’ Day or Lincoln’s birthday. Oh well. I have only recently become curious about Lincoln–so shoot me. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Back to the Day Lincoln Was Shot by Beatrice Gormley (Travelers Through Time #3, 1996, 138 pages). I do judge a book by its cover and the cheesiness of this one made me want to read it. In contrast to the stilted pose on the cover, the story was lively and interesting. I liked it better than the other two books that I have read by this author (my reviews: Back to the Titanic, Back to Paul Revere).
Summary from Amazon: When their grandfather invents a time machine, Matt and Emily, accompanied by their scientific genius friend Jonathan, journey back to the night when President Lincoln was shot in the hopes of preventing the assassination.
SPOILER ALERT FOR PRETTY MUCH ALL MIDDLE GRADE TIME TRAVEL BOOKS: you can’t undo major events that have happened in the past. So I knew these kids’ mission was doomed from the start. Surprisingly, there was still some suspense because I wanted to see how it all played out. At the start of the story the trio together come up with three ideas to thwart the assassination, then they split up and try to make them work. Different chapters follow Matt, Emily, and Jonathan.
I learned a lot about the assassination. The author captures the ordinariness of the day. The play Lincoln was watching when he was killed was Our American Cousin. It was fascinating to learn about the play and what passed for humor back then. I like to think that Lincoln was able to relax and was truly enjoying himself in his final hour, watching this comedic play. It is still so sad to think of Lincoln, who had given so much of himself to his country, having his life cut short, and the author’s portrayal of Lincoln is appropriately poignant.
Emily meets John Wilkes Booth, and it was great to imagine him as a real person, rather than just a name in history books. It got me curious about Booth and interested in reading the Swanson book. (later in post)
All three books I read showed how different Washington, D.C. then was from now, full of horses pulling carriages, cows running around, and wooden sidewalks. All three described how people could just walk into the White House. This was explained best in Abe Lincoln at Last: When Abe Lincoln became president in 1861, the White House was considered to belong to all of the citizens of the country. This was pre secret service. Hard to imagine, no?
Summary from Goodreads:
Third graders travel through time to keep history on track Abigail loves Mondays, and so does the rest of class 305. That’s the day Mr. Caruthers asks them cool questions about history. Today Mr. C asks, “What if Abraham Lincoln never freed the slaves?” Abigail and her friends are ready to put their thinking caps on. But this time Mr. C wants them to do more than put their heads together-he wants them to travel back in time
Turns out the “What If?” questions are real, and Mr. C has just come back from a visit to the past. He needs their help because it looks like President Lincoln might quit and never free the slaves With a time-travel gadget and only two hours to spare, Abigail and her friends are going back to the past. But even though time traveling isn’t hard, convincing Abraham Lincoln not to give up isn’t going to be easy…
The premise of this series is that certain famous people in history were close to giving up at some point before they accomplished what they became noted for. Mr. C’s students have to travel back in time to convince the people not to quit, or presumably some alternative space/time continuum will arise. Hard to swallow logically, even using time-travel logic, but the books work. Lincoln would seem a great pick for this series as he no doubt felt discouraged by the Civil War.
When the kids meet Lincoln, he has written the Emancipation Proclamation but has not issued it yet. Abigail and her three friends try to convince him to do so. Lincoln is depressed and feeling like the north is losing the war. The book describes how Lincoln got his information about what was going on in the world via telegraph, and sometimes the info took days to reach him, which was interesting. The kids bring Lincoln to the present time, which was fun. The books in the series are short and sweet.
Abe Lincoln at Last! (Magic Tree House#47) by Mary Pope Osborne, ( 2011, 115 pages, usually enjoyed by kids in grade 3 and younger.)
Summary from Amazon:
Are you ready for a presidential adventure?
Jack and Annie are! They are trying to get a special feather that will help save Merlin’s baby penguin, Penny. When the magic tree house whisks them back to Washington, D.C., in 1861, Jack can’t wait to meet Abraham Lincoln himself! But the new president is too busy to see them, as he is desperately trying to save a nation in crisis.
When Jack and Annie ask for some magical help, they go back even further in time to a mysterious woods. Are these the same woods where Abraham Lincoln takes his daily horse ride? If so, can an orphan named Sam help them find Abe? Or will Jack and Annie have to help Sam instead?
It’s a race against time as Jack and Annie try to do the right thing. Plus, they still have to aid a president and a troubled nation, as well as get the object that will save Penny the penguin!
Magic Treehouse is probably the most popular time travel book series, yet this is the first one from the series I have reviewed! The well-traveled Jack and Annie go to 1861 and meet the president and his sons. The story focuses more on a boy they meet, Sam, than Lincoln, which was fine by me. There were a lot of great details about the chores Sam had to do every day. Sweet illustrations every few pages help make this book enjoyable. Another brief book.
Other middle grade or YA books about Lincoln’s assassination you might like:
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson. Summary from Amazon:
NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author James Swanson delivers a riveting account of the chase for Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.
Based on rare archival material, obscure trial manuscripts, and interviews with relatives of the conspirators and the manhunters, CHASING LINCOLN’S KILLER is a fast-paced thriller about the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth: a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia.
Tracking an Assassin! (Nickolas Flux and the History Chronicles) by Nel Yomtov. Amazon:
When a spontaneous time leap sends Nickolas Flux back to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, what’s a teenage history buff to do? Join the hunt for the presidents killer, of course! From the crack of the fatal shot to the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, Nick arrives at one of the most pivotal moments in American history.
Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth by James Cross Giblin. Amazon:
Edwin Booth and his younger brother John Wilkes Booth were, in many ways, two of a kind. They were among America’s finest actors, having inherited their father’s commanding stage presence along with his penchant for alcohol and impulsive behavior. In other respects, the two brothers were very different. Edwin was more introspective, while John was known for his passionate intensity. They stood at opposite poles politically, as well: Edwin voted for Abraham Lincoln; John was an ardent advocate of the Confederacy.
Award-winning author James Cross Giblin draws on first-hand accounts of family members, friends, and colleagues to create vivid images of Edwin Booth and his brother John Wilkes, best known today as the man who shot Abraham Lincoln. He traces the events leading up to the assassination and describes the effects of John Wilkes’s infamous deed on himself, his family, and his country. Comprehensive and compelling, this dual portrait illuminates a dark and tragic moment in the nation’s history and explores the complex legacy of two leading men—one revered, the other abhorred.