Monday, December 3, 2012

Abe Lincoln's Dream

Horn Book (November/December, 2012)

Smith channels his inner Dickens, presenting a ghost of White Houses past: the specter of one Abraham Lincoln. While visiting the White House, a young girl named Quincy spies a tall man in a stovepipe hat pacing around. He confesses to worrying about the path the country has taken since 1865. Quincy persuades him to leave the “Executive Mansion” (as he still thinks of it), and the two soar over Washington DC. “Are the states united?” Abe asks. Quincy assures him they are, and that his optimistic, forward-thinking wish for equality for all people is now possible. “And Man?” the ghost asks as they fly past the Capitol. “Does he no longer Fuss ’n’ Fight with his fellow man?” Quincy’s answer -- “We’re still working on that one” -- is underscored by an illustration of a chair being thrown out of that august building. Here, Smith’s palette, which lightens from darker reds, browns, and blacks to the glorious promise of Washington’s cherry blossoms, shows faith in that possibility, leading to the story’s hopeful ending, with America’s Ship of State (appropriately, a nineteenth-century paddle wheeler) heading toward a better world. Abe’s Ichabod Crane-like angularity is set against an imaginative array of design elements, from the hand-lettered broadside printing of the nineteenth century to collages incorporating various patterns and effects -- crackle, sponge-painting, spackle -- that also lend an old-fashioned feel. However, Smith combines and juxtaposes these elements to create a look both bold and spectacular. Beyond its visual pleasures, the book effectively, and with a light touch, presents government as a work in progress rather than the done-deal children are usually taught; author’s notes (effectively pitched at a young audience) provide historical context. betty carter

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