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The Lincoln legacy comes to life for young readers

Some of the brightest lights in children's publishing have written or illustrated books about Abe Lincoln in honor of the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Talented Rosemary Wells, creator of the "Ruby and Max" books and author of many excellent novels and nonfiction for young people, offers a lyrical, moving portrait of Abe Lincoln as loving father, through the voices of sons Willie and Tad in "Lincoln and His Boys" (Candlewick Press, $16.99, 93 pages). Inspired by a 200-word fragment written by Willie about a trip taken with his father and based on historical incidents, this biography offers a vivid, intimate story of a father who was ahead of his time in rejecting Victorian ideas about child-rearing in favor of embracing his sons with affection and respect. P.J. Lynch's luminous paintings are lovely.

Equally excellent is "The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary" by Candace Fleming (Schwarz & Wade, $24.99, 196 pages), who did similar fine work in "Ben Franklin's Almanac." Here she weaves together the stories of Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd, packaging the information in digestible, short vignettes, to be nibbled a page at a time or consumed easily in longer sittings. Well-researched and beautifully written and illustrated, this lively, deeply personal look at both Lincolns is particularly fascinating in the exploration of the formative experiences of their starkly different childhoods: he covered with a bearskin in a crude cabin at birth, she growing up in comfort, with piano lessons and slaves to wait on her. A full portrait of Lincoln, as tender-hearted, smart, funny and ambitious, emerges from the pages. Fleming also offers a sympathetic examination of much-maligned Mrs. Lincoln.

Other chapter books:

*My Brother Abe: Sally Lincoln's Story by Harry Mazer (Simon & Schuster, $15.99, 198 pages). Ages 9 to 12. Although few facts are known about the Lincoln family in the early years, an acclaimed author offers a vivid portrait of pioneer life and what Abe's beloved sister might have been like.

*Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered by Barry Denenberg (Feiwel and Friends, $24.95, 40 pages). Ages 9 to 12. This oversize book, a librarian's shelving nightmare at more than 18 inches tall, adopts the format of an old newspaper complete with faux weathered pages. The intriguing graphic display includes Christopher Bing's old-style illustration of John Wilkes Booth pointing his pistol at Lincoln's head, real advertisements from the time, pen-and-ink scenes from Lincoln's life and archival photos. While interesting, this is a lesser work than Fleming's.

*Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson (Scholastic, $16.99, 208 pages) 12 and up. In adapting his best seller "Manhunt: The 12-day Chase for Lincoln's Killer" for younger readers, the author consulted with school-age "advisers" who recommended: "Keep in all the blood and gore but not so much that our parents flip out." The result is a gripping page-turner, a graphically detailed account of Lincoln's assassination. The focus on John Wilkes Booth means this should be supplemental reading, not the only book a young person reads about Lincoln.

Picture Books:

*Abraham Lincoln Comes Home by Robert Burleigh (Henry Holt, $16.95). Ages 6 to 10. Burleigh's simple story, of a boy and his father traveling by night to witness Lincoln's funeral train pass by, beautifully evokes the mourning of a nation. The detailed paintings are by acclaimed artist Wendell Minor.

*Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek by Deborah Hopkinson (Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99) Ages 4 to 8. Hopkinson's folksy humor and John Hendrix's droll drawings are perfect for this picture book about an incident when 10-year-old Austin Gollaher saved 7-year-old Abe from drowning.

*Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport (illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Hyperion, $16.99). Age 8 and up. The important essentials of Lincoln's story are condensed into poetry in the lyric beauty of Rappaport's simple prose and complemented by the somber beauty of an acclaimed illustrator's gorgeous paintings. (Nelson's "We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball" won the Coretta Scott King Book Award.)

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