Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cybils Book Reviews - Friends and Enemies

Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship, written by Nikki Gionvanni and illustrated by Bryan Collier, is a story that begins with Lincoln awaiting the arrival of his friend at his second inaugural reception. As the two men journey across the ballroom to meet, the story flashes back to their individual histories. This brief introduction to their early lives is written in italics. It begins with a double-page spread of a young Douglass in the woods on a moonlit night. The text reads:
Young Frederick Douglass, refusing to be whipped again, ran away from his owner after fighting with the overseer.

He crossed streams and fields until he came to sympathetic Quakers who offered him refuge.
The next double-page spread shows Lincoln, with outstretched hands, speaking to a man in front of a store. The text reads:
Young Abraham Lincoln walked five miles back to the country store because the clerk had given him a nickel too much change.
Readers next see both young men, on opposite sides of a spread, studying by the light of a kerosene lamp. Readers also learn that while Douglass worked as a ship's caulker in Baltimore, Lincoln sailed down the Mississippi hauling produce.

The italicized section ends here and the story of their relationship begins. The illustration depicts the two men talking together and is accompanied by this text.
When Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives, Douglass called upon him as he called upon all the newly elected congressmen. Douglass wanted to teach; Lincoln wanted to learn. A friendship flowered based mutual values, a love of good food, and the ability to laugh even in the worst of times.
Readers learn how both men hated slavery, though they weren't the only ones. One double-page spread is devoted to the story of John Brown and the attack on Harpers Ferry. Another is devoted to the story of Mary Ellen Pleasant (Mammy Pleasant), a woman who had helped John Brown raise funds and had gone to Virginia to support his cause.

The Civil War was raging during this time, and the darkness of war that hung over the inaugural celebration is shown in a large gatefold in which the the flaps depict the ballroom of the White House, while the fully opened gatefold (four pages wide) depicts a battle scene between the gray and blue. It is one of the most beautiful and astonishing collages in the text.

In the final pages, when Lincoln and Douglass finally meet, they briefly discuss the long journey that has brought them together. The final page of the text includes a timeline that begins with the birth of Lincoln (1809) and ends with the death of Douglass (1895). Important events in the lives of both are included.

This book provides a welcome introduction to this friendship and will offer a unique perspective for young student's studying the Lincoln presidency and his views on slavery.

Duel!: Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words, written by Dennis Brindell Fradin and illustrated by Larry Day, is the story of two men who were bitter enemies, and how their personal feud came to a tragic end.

Their story begins this way.
As the sun rises on a July morning in 1804, two men stand ten paces apart on a New Jersey cliffside. One is Alexander Hamilton, a signer of the Constitution. The other is Aaron Burr, the vice president of the United States. They are risking arrest—and their lives—to fight an illegal pistol duel.
The story of the duel is told in italics, while the history of the two and events leading to that event are told in regular font. Readers first learn about their childhoods. Hamilton was born on an island in the Caribbean. By the age of 13 his mother was dead and his father gone. At the age of 17 he sailed to the states to study at an academy in New Jersey. Around the time that Hamilton came to New Jersey, Burr was graduating from Princeton College. Burr's childhood was also a difficult one. He was an orphan by the age of two and raised by his uncle. He was often beaten and ran away, but his uncle always managed to find him.

Both Hamilton and Burr fought for independence during the Revolutionary War. both also served as aides to George Washington. Though Hamilton felt others saw him as an outsider because of his foreign birth, Washington was very fond of him. The same could not be said for Burr. Washington saw him as a troublemaker and dismissed him from his staff. This event marked the beginning of tensions between Hamilton and Burr.

Both men worked as lawyers in New York City, where they often met on opposite sides in the courtroom. Hamilton went on to become Secretary of the Treasury in 1789. Two years later, Burr defeated Hamilton's father-in-law for a seat in the Senate. In his anger over this, Hamilton wrote letters to lawmakers, "calling Burr "the worst sort" of pubic figure." In 1800 when Burr ran for president against Jefferson, the two men tied for first place and it was up the House of Representatives to choose the president. Hamilton wrote letters to representatives, calling Burr "wicked" and saying many other negative things. Burr lost the presidency to Jefferson and had to settle for the vice presidency. In a final act against Burr, Hamilton's negative words and name-calling led to Burr's defeat in the election for governor of New York. Burr was so angry with Hamilton over all these offenses that he challenged him to fight a duel.
Knowing that they might not survive the gunfight, Hamilton and Burr said farewell to their loved ones. Hamilton spent the Sunday before the duel with his family. On the eve of the duel, Burr wrote a parting letter to his daughter Theo.

Early the next morning, oarsmen row Hamilton and Burr across the Hudson from New York City to Weehawken in separate boats.
Both men fired their pistols. Both staggered and appeared to be injured. However, Burr only stumbled on a stone, while Hamilton was gravely wounded. He died the afternoon of the next day. Even though he was allowed to finish his term as vice president, his future in politics was destroyed in the wake of Hamilton's death. The text ends with information on the tradition of dueling, and includes a bibliography, as well as ideas for further reading.

I have read this book a number of times. I love the ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations, and am fascinated by the history. This story may be more than 200 years old, but it still rings true for students today, as perhaps the ultimate anti-bullying tale.

Book: Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship
Nikki Giovanni
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Date Published:
40 pages
Source of Book: Copy received from publisher for Cybils consideration.

Book: Duel!: Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words
Dennis Brindell Fradin
Larry Day
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Date Published:
40 pages
Source of Book: Copy received from publisher for Cybils consideration.

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