In honor of President Lincoln’s 200th birthday today, I give you a review of Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers, a children’s book written and illustrated by Karen B. Winnick.
This is a delightful book about 11-year old Grace Bedell, living in New York with her many brothers and sisters. Abraham Lincoln is running for President and Grace’s father gives her a picture of him. He looks kind, Grace thinks, but his face seems sad. She decides he would look better “with whiskers.” Unbeknownst to her family, Grace writes to Lincoln and presents her case why he should consider growing a beard.
Writing her letter is a considerable act of courage and independence for Grace, coming of age in 1860 when women weren’t allowed to vote nor expected to voice opinions. (Grace does the latter during a dinnertime conversation with her brothers and father, offering them her position on slavery and the issue’s impact on Lincoln’s chances of winning the election).
To Grace’s surprise – not to mention her family’s – Mr. Lincoln replies. A month later, Grace and her family see Lincoln when his train stops in their town during his inauguration trip to Washington, D.C. Lincoln steps out of the train, tells his handlers that he wants to see Grace, and she comes forth from the crowd (how did he know she would be there? Pretty good advance work for 1860, no?). To everyone’s surprise, he has whiskers – and he goes to be our first American President with a beard, in addition to a few other notable distinctions.
Written for a 6-9 year old audience, this is a delightful book on so many levels. It is at least partially true (an 11-year old girl Grace Bedell really did write a letter to Lincoln about growing a beard; however, the train stop encounter with Grace is something that my favorite presidential historian in this house has never heard of). More importantly, Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers shows girls that they can have opinions – and that they matter, and that they are entitled to their opinions. It also gives young readers an introduction to Lincoln and the time period in which he served as our President. Finally, in an increasingly digital age, the book includes the text and reproductions of the actual letters between President Lincoln and Grace Bedell.
Highly recommended for this age range and a book that is presented in a way that holds children’s interest and perhaps sparks curiosity about Lincoln and a different time period.
(Boo would like you to know that he would have written or contributed to this review, but he is “still getting his thoughts together” about this book.)