I haven’t been blogging about my art classes in several months. I have several posts in draft form that I need to polish off a little bit, but I am currently teaching ceramics to every class in the entire school and I am TIRED at the end of the day.
So let’s turn to the topic of history at the elementary level. Its tough to balance an overview of various historical figures without overwhelming students with information, boring them, or giving them only a sanitized version of the truth.
I teach art, so I don’t usually teach presidents, but I thought, in honor of the holiday, I’d share these two books about Lincoln and Washington. I really wish there were art biographies that tackled the issues that these two books engage in.
George Washington’s Birthday
The first book in George Washington’s Birthday by Margaret McNamara and Barry Blitt (2012).
Ah Washington. There are so many myths that have grown up around him and some parts of his life that are pretty problematic when judged by today’s standards.
This book tells the story of a day of young George’s birthday, while interjecting little meta-textual passages that contradict the narrative or debunk myths that have evolved over time. (Kinda reminds me of Pop Up Videos.)
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend)
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend) by Deborah Hopkinson and John Hendrix (2008) starts off telling one story, then screeches to a halt to critique the very story it began telling.
“Hold on one minute!” the Hopkinson writes, “I want to be sure we get this right. Because maybe it didn’t happen like that.”
Then, the tape is wound backwards and the story is approached from another angle. Then, Hopksinson, writes that we don’t know how Lincoln’s friend saves him from the river and offers several ways it may have happened. “We’ll let John decide which sketch to paint. For that’s the thing about history-if you weren’t there, you can’t know for sure.” The illustrations depicta hand drawing all three options on a piece of paper, leaving the reader to decide how it happened.
The book draws attention to multiple contradictory accounts of an event and how Tall Tales can arise from the retelling of these stories.
UPDATE: Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature has a critique of Looking at Lincoln.