Celebrating Abe's Day: Our Abe Lincoln by Jim Aylesworth
Presenting a bit of history as complex as the life and accomplishments of President Abraham Lincoln to young children is actually a daunting task. Fortunately, as we celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth on February 9, 2009, we have a sparkling new picture book, just published, which has found a way to make young elementary kids a part of the story.
Jim Aylesworth's Our Abe Lincoln (Blue Sky Press, 2009) begins with the kids of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School preparing for a big performance. Signs on the gym wall proclaim "TONIGHT! OUR ABE LINCOLN", while backstage we see excited students getting into period dresses and suits, styling historical wigs, or pulling on skunk, bear, and raccoon costumes, while young stagehands put the final touches on a log cabin backdrop. Banjo and fiddle players consult with the pianist, while families and friends file into the bunting-draped room and take their seats expectantly.
As a tableau of Tom, Nancy, sister Sally, and baby Abraham take their place center stage, the curtain opens and the chorus begins:
"Babe Abe Lincoln was born in the wilderness,
Born in the wilderness,
Born in the wilderness,
Babe Abe Lincoln was born in the wilderness,
Many long years ago."
Scene after scene follow, documenting Abe's young life, all following the familiar verse form of "The Old Grey Mare.":
"Smart Abe Lincoln read by the firelight...."
True Abe Lincoln was praised for his honesty....
Tall Abe Lincoln made friends there in Illinois....
Many glad years ago."
And then the children turn to the hard years of Lincoln's public service.
"Wise Abe Lincoln said 'No more to slavery...,'
Many brave days ago.
Sad Abe Lincoln spoke grand words at Gettysburg...,
Many lost souls ago.
Great Abe Lincoln died hard for his noble deeds...,
Many sad tears ago."
At last the full cast assembles onstage for the grand finale as, joined by the audience, all sing
"Our Abe Lincoln came out of the wilderness...,
Many proud days ago!"
Using the frame story of an elementary school play will surely engage children who have performed or watched such performances on their own stage, and the easy-to-learn song hits the main points of Lincoln's life upon which teachers and parents can build for a fuller picture of his importance in our history. Barbara McClintock's lively and appealing illustrations are central to the success of this essential picture book which should find its place in the annual Presidents' Day story time rotation and in every school and public library.