Friday, January 02, 2009

A (Forthcoming) Story for Younger Readers

In, I think, the second grade, already the consummate ham, I organized a "play" to commemorate Lincoln's Birthday at a PTA meeting. Aided by my pals Jeff (as Lincoln) and Joel (as Booth,) we re-enacted the tragedy of Lincoln's assassination. When Booth jumped from the scene of the crime to the stage, he nearly took the bunting and the Presidential Box -- made of cardboard -- with him. Luckily the dying Lincoln thoughtfully grabbed our falling set and held it throughout the rest of the action. Now why we chose the assassination as our tribute on the man's birthday, I do not now recall. I do remember that I was the narrator and Jeff was cast as Lincoln because, unlike me, he must have already been well over three feet tall.

I am not a big fan of assassination histories. Most tend to be written by conspiracy theorists and like minded paranoids. So when a great book does come along dealing with Lincoln's untimely end, it takes me awhile to warm to it.

Well, there is such a book on Lincoln's assassins, and I'm recommending here, a bit late. James L. Swanson has written the definitive history of the flight of John Wilkes Booth, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Published in 2006, it is in paperback now. Terribly exciting, and full of information previously unknown to me, Swanson's book managed to tell a familiar story in a remarkably fresh way; taking the flight of Booth as an opportunity to detail both the hunt, and the immediate consequences of the assassination.

Come February, Swanson has a new book coming out, for younger readers: Chasing Lincoln's Killer. The author has recast the whole story in language appropriate for this new audience without losing the excitement and serious scholarship of the adult version. The new book is handsomely designed, includes a number of large illustrations, and will sell in hardcover for only $16.95. A perfect gift for a younger history buff. Much better, no doubt, if less hilarious, than my production from the 2nd grade.

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