Oh boy! This is exciting! We get to discuss my nephew’s favorite book! Perhaps he can join in the discussion? Or perhaps not, since he still can only say about 10 words (“cah”, “chiz”, “yiss”, etc.).
First, if you haven’t had time to buy/read it yet, just watch this video to catch up:
Okay, now we can discuss!!!!!!!
I am legitimately fascinated by how much my nephew (and other children I know) really REALLY love this book. I’d like to think it is because History is Fun, but since these are children who can’t speak English yet, probably not.
I think the appeal gets down to 4 things:
- Episodic and overaching narrative. The big story is Abe Lincoln finding his hat. But along the way there are all these slightly related incidents. Meaning if you get bored with the book, you can flip several pages at once and still have it make some sort of logical sense for the Big story.
- Dramatically different alternating color schemes. The pages go from almost all white and grey, to all brown, lots of people, to almost no people. I would have thought that The Youth would want a full filled in very busy picture, but instead the appeal seems to be the constant change page to page. If you don’t like brown, no worries, flip the page and you get a big crowd of multi-colored people!
- Repeated sentence structure. Each page is just “First Name Last Name is Doing This”. It’s very kind of hypnotic and soothing, at the same time that it is varied because it’s always a different name and a different action. It’s kind of like a sonnet, it starts AA (“Abe Lincoln Cannot find his hat”), and then is all BBBBBBBB through the rest of the book, before going back to A.
- Everyone looks different. First, I remember being slightly older than my nephew and seeing a photo of Frederick Douglas for the first time and immediately loving his hair. He just has AMAZING hair!!!! Like, all time great historical figure hair. So we definitely start on a high note. But then everyone else has some simple differences between them, skin tone or clothing or hair or whatever. It’s not boring, especially if you are working on figuring out how faces work and people work and stuff.
Now, things that bother me as an Adult reading this book!
First, of course, the message that Abe is just a doofus looking for his hat while everyone else does the work. This does follow the sort of “Team of Rivals” theory that Abe’s greatest gift was in attracting allies. But I still think he could be doing MORE! Like, maybe establish that his draft of The Gettysburg Address is IN THE HAT, and that’s why he needs to find it.
Second, the timeline is all jumbled up!!!! Harriet Tubman was working as a spy by then, and Sojourner Truth was volunteering at hospitals and going on enlistment drives and (supposedly) writing a regiment song for a “colored” regiment. Frederick Douglass was recruiting too, and working with Lincoln to plan for post-slavery America, he wrote a book before and after the war but not during. The whole thing is messed up! This isn’t the Siva Puranam, I can’t handle the circular time line.
Third, no noses. Once one of you pointed it out to me, now I can’t unsee it.
So what do you think?