Lincoln Tells a Joke by Kathleen Krull & Paul Brewer

58986032Lynn: Kathleen Krull is known for her humorous and innovative biographies and she and husband Paul Brewer have brought that approach to one of our most important and well-spoken presidents. The number of biographies of Lincoln is mind-boggling but here is a fresh and funny approach that is also smartly written and will give young readers much to think about. Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country) (Houghton/Harcourt 2010) begins with a litany of some of the serious and difficult issues Lincoln faced in his life. “His life was hardly any fun at all.” Then the authors discuss how Lincoln used humor not only to deal with his own sorrows and worries but in winning over political enemies, swaying jurors, making allies out of enemies and easing crises. “Words mattered,” and many of Lincoln’s wonderful jokes and comments pepper the text, written in cursive to make them stand out. Stacy Innerst’s comic illustrations are the perfect pairing to the text. She uses wonderfully muted tones in her acrylic drawings and unusual perspectives to underscore the text. I am especially fond of the drawing showing Lincoln, who was terrible at keeping track of his papers, completely hidden by a teetering tower of paper. Looks like my office (dining room table)!

This enticing and effective biography does an outstanding job of making Lincoln vibrant and human – much more interesting than a dusty figure from the past. I think young readers will really respond to this book and I hope some will use the excellent source materials listed to learn more. This would be wonderful to use with elementary students but I also think it would be excellent to use as a quick read with middle school history classes. The lesson of how Lincoln used humor is one we can all use in our lives!

Cindy: I am relying on laughter myself to survive these days. I wholeheartedly agree with the central message about its importance in daily life. The other theme that is well represented in this book is how important reading was to Lincoln. We’ve all heard how he walked miles each way as a child to borrow a book, but to a man with very limited formal schooling, reading was key to the development of his vast knowledge and ability to make important decisions. This is a perfect package…it ought to be one our current president, an unabashed Lincoln fan, shares with his daughters. It might help him cope with all the stresses in his life, too. Ah, the power of books.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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