We’re celebrating Lincoln’s birthday this week with several sample poems from a new picture book biography and a recipe for his favorite cake.
As a Presidential trivia buff and a big Lincoln fan, I was excited when The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About Our 16th President by Eileen R. Meyer and Dave Szalay (Charlesbridge, 2019), came out this past November.
Meyer’s theme of “superlatives” is a fun and effective way to help kids understand why Lincoln is widely considered to be our greatest President. Her nineteen narrative poems — lively, rhyming, upbeat, captivating — describe some of Lincoln’s most commendable skills, attributes, dreams, and milestones, while providing interesting insights into his personality and character.
The poems are arranged chronologically from Lincoln’s humble beginnings as “Most Studious” (a self-taught learner), to his youth as “Most Distracted Farmer” (who preferred reading to farm chores), to being “Most Respected” (short stint at boot camp), to his tenure as President (a “Most Permissive Parent” whose sons ran wild in the White House). With the “Strongest Conviction,” he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, then later delivered his “Greatest Speech,” the Gettysburg Address.
Readers of all ages will also enjoy hearing about several surprising, lesser-known facts about our tallest President: that he did not like the nickname, “Abe,” was a champion wrestler, was awarded a patent for inventing a device to lift boats over shoals, and that he loved to tell jokes and funny stories.
I didn’t know that an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell once wrote candidate Lincoln, suggesting that he grow a beard to get more votes (he was the first President to wear a beard), or that Lincoln never actually slept in the Lincoln Bedroom (he used the room as office space). And what about that famous stovepipe hat: did you know he wrote notes upon its flat surface and tucked letters and other documents inside the lining?
Dave Szalay’s warm, earth-toned digital illustrations establish the period setting and illuminate the poems with touches of humor and humanizing details. We see Lincoln at different ages, engaged in various activities that display his physical strength, steadfast determination, formidable stature, and congeniality.
I especially love the startled expression on the horse’s face as it looks back at young Lincoln, who’s reading a book in the middle of plowing; Lincoln the inventor with his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth in rapt concentration, and the picture of President Lincoln with his feet up on the desk, busy working while his two sons play nearby with their pet goat.
There’s always something new to learn about Abraham Lincoln, all of it fascinating. These engaging, entertaining poems — delectable bite-size nuggets of information — will surely make young readers hunger for more. Meyer has also included short notes with additional details for all the poems.
MOST DISTRACTED FARMER
What He’d Rather Do
He’s one distracted farmer.
He’d readily agree:
he’d like to chuck his farm chores.
He’d rather sit and read.
He stops with each new furrow.
The plow horse takes a rest.
A book pops from Abe’s pocket:
a story to digest.
He clears a neighbor’s timber.
Then splits rails one by one,
while memorizing passages
beneath the blazing sun.
He feeds a restless hunger.
Words call to him — Come look!
He hunts for pearls of wisdom
inside a borrowed book.
He’s one distracted farmer.
He’d readily agree:
He’d like to chuck his farm chores.
He’d rather sit and read.
The President Tells a Story
He’d tell you a joke.
He’d share an old tale.
He’d spin a new story
with folksy detail.
He’d chuck and laugh
at his wisecracking, then
give light to the truth
as he made a new friend.
Like stars in the sky,
like bright flecks of gold,
his words shone long after
his stories were told.
MOST PERMISSIVE PARENT
The Lincoln Boys at Play
They’re . . .
fast-as lightning streakers,
White House hide-and-seekers,
They’re undercover spies!
They’re . . .
They’re galloping nearby!
They’re . . .
Lincoln’s main attraction,
a welcome work distraction,
a father’s greatest passion, and
the apples of his eye!
The Superlative A. Lincoln begs to be shared in the classroom with its excellent back matter: an Author’s Note, a Time Line of Abraham Lincoln’s Life, Resources for Young Lincoln Fans, a comprehensive Bibliography, and a fun activity, “The Superlative You,” where readers are asked to consider in what ways they are superlative (“Most Daring,” “Most Artistic,” “Bravest”). What a great exercise to promote self confidence and inspire excellence. 🙂
🍰 MOST ROMANTIC CAKE 🍰
Speaking of superlatives, it’s only fitting that since today is Valentine’s Day, we deem Lincoln’s favorite almond cake, the most romantic.
After all, it was Mary Todd who first baked this cake for him while they were courting in Springfield, Illinois. One taste, and he declared it, “the best in Kentucky . . . the best cake I ever ate.”
Mary was an avid baker with a decided sweet tooth. As the story goes, when she moved to Springfield to live with her older sister Elizabeth, she brought the White Almond Cake recipe from her favorite bakery in Lexington with her. She continued to bake it as a Springfield housewife and later when she was First Lady.
As Lysander says to Hermia at the beginning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” and this was certainly true of Abraham and Mary’s relationship. Despite Elizabeth’s disapproval of Lincoln, largely due to the vast differences between the couple’s socio-economic backgrounds, they were drawn to each other by their mutual love of politics and moral convictions.
Stimulating conversations between dueling intellects sparked a unique chemistry, and Abraham and Mary were soon engaged. But on New Year’s Day 1841 their betrothal was abruptly called off for unconfirmed reasons (Todd family disapproval? Lincoln feeling he couldn’t keep Mary in the style to which she was accustomed? Mary’s flirtations with others?).
They stayed apart for almost two years, until a mutual friend brought them together again. They began meeting at their friend’s home in secret. Just as suddenly as their engagement had ended, they surprised everyone by announcing they would marry the same day. Elizabeth convinced them to wait until the following day, while everyone scrambled with last minute preparations. Apparently the wedding cake was not frosted because it was still warm when it came time for it to be served.
Mary’s mercurial personality, along with the tendency of both to slide into bouts of despondency and depression, are well documented. Despite many ups and downs during their marriage, not the least of which was the loss of their three sons, they remained devoted to one another. Lincoln once said:
My wife is as handsome as when she was a girl, and I, a poor nobody then, fell in love with her; and what is more, I have never fallen out.
I like to think Mary’s White Almond Cake had something to do with that. 🙂
There are many modernized versions of Mary’s almond cake recipe floating around, some frosted, some not. Back in 2009, I tried what seemed to be the most popular one, from Donna D. McCready’s, Lincoln’s Table. Baked in a tube pan, it was like an angel food or light coffee cake.
I have since discovered another recipe in Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times by Rae Katherine Eighmey (Smithsonian Books, 2014). This one didn’t call for beating egg whites and was more like a rich pound cake. Of course there is no actual evidence of “the precise recipe” Mary followed, only replications based on period cookbooks. Eighmey’s thorough research produced two almond cake recipes. Since I had already made the airy French Almond Cake version, this time around I tried the Almond Pound Cake, adapted from The Kentucky Housewife by Mrs. Lettice Bryan (1839).
The cake has a dense crumb and with only 1/2 cup sugar, is not overly sweet. The ground almonds give it a nice texture, but next time I will increase the amount of almond extract (is there anything that smells more heavenly?). I found it odd that the recipe called for white wine — couldn’t detect its flavor at all.
Overall, a nice cake for teatime. Be careful to whom you serve it, however; you may find yourself engaged to a future President. 🙂
Almond Pound Cake
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
- 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 ounces blanched slivered almonds, finely crushed or chopped into 1/16-inch pieces
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup white wine
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch loaf pan. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the mace, almond extract, lemon zest and juice, and almonds. Stir in 1/2 cup flour, followed by the wine and then the remaining 1/2 cup flour, mixing well after each addition. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is lightly browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes.
~ Adapted from “Almond Pound Cake,” Mrs. Lettice Bryan, The Kentucky Housewife, 1893/Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times by Rae Katherine Eighmey (Smithsonian Books, 2013), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
THE SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN: Poems About Our 16th President
written by Eileen R. Meyer
illustrated by Dave Szalay
published by Charlesbridge, November 2019
Poetry Picture Book Biography for ages 6-9, 48 pp.
🍅 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 📚
The publisher is generously donating a copy of the book for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, February 19, 2020. You may also enter by sending an email with LINCOLN in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
❤️ HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! ❤️
This Almond Pound Cake is firm enough to cut into fun shapes. 🙂
“Whatever woman may cast her lot with mine, should any ever do so, it is my intention to do all in my power to make her happy and contented; and there is nothing I can imagine that would make me more unhappy than to fail in that effort.” ~ A. Lincoln
The beautiful and talented Linda Baie is hosting the Roundup at TeacherDance with some Valentine’s Day hearts and a sweet poem. Waltz over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being serving up in the blogosphere this week. Share the love this weekend!
*Interior spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2020 Eileen R. Meyer, illustrations © 2020 Dave Szalay, published by Charlesbridge. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.