[review + recipe + giveaway] The Superlative A. Lincoln by Eileen R. Meyer and Dave Szalay

 

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.

Enjoy!

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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.

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BEST YARN-SPINNER
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.

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MOST PERMISSIVE PARENT
The Lincoln Boys at Play

They’re . . .
fast-as lightning streakers,
White House hide-and-seekers,
around-the-corner peekers.

They’re undercover spies!

They’re . . .
across-the-wood-floor gliders,
stairway-railing sliders,
hallway horsey-riders.

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!

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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. 🙂

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🍰 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.

 

The couple was never photographed together because of their height difference (she was 5’2″, he was 6’4″).

 

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

  • Servings: 10 to 12 slices
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

*

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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.

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🍅 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!

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❤️ HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! ❤️

 

This Almond Pound Cake is firm enough to cut into fun shapes. 🙂

Mr Cornelius claims to have officiated at the Lincoln wedding.

 

“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

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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.

46 thoughts on “[review + recipe + giveaway] The Superlative A. Lincoln by Eileen R. Meyer and Dave Szalay

  1. I have this marvelous book, Jama, so don’t put me in the giveaway. You’ve reminded me how much I do love it with your special review, a loving picture on Valentine’s Day & to celebrate dear A. Lincoln’s birthday. I do love the “Most Distracted Farmer” poem & the quotes you shared that show what a kind & loving man he was. The cake is your topper! I also love the taste of almond, so this will be a winner for me! Happy Valentine’s Day! Wishing you and the bears many sweets!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the V’s Day wishes, Linda. There is always something new to learn about Lincoln. I also enjoyed reading Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard; well researched historical fiction that went into more detail about Abraham and Mary’s courtship.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great post and this book is really amazing. There are still many things to learn about Abe, such a perpetually fascinating figure. And that almond cake looks delicious. I’ve never seen a pound cake recipe with wine as an ingredient.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was surprised to see wine on the list of ingredients. I don’t know what it might have added to the recipe since I couldn’t taste it at all in the finished cake.

      Like

  3. Happy Valentine’s Day, Jama! Your tea party photos with your bear friends are valentines in themselves. Thank you for all the effort that goes into staging and photographing these delightful gatherings for us. I love the Lincoln poems, and want to gift this book to a young first grader Lincoln who is an avid reader already. Thank you for highlighting this title.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What struck me most was Lincoln’s strong affinity for words and learning. This looks like a wonderful Lincoln book, a great way to learn about him. Thanks so much for sharing. Cakes looks great, too!

    Like

    1. Yes, I’ve always been impressed by Lincoln’s mind — seems he was born with a thirst for knowledge and lucky for the world, he was able to compensate for his lack of a formal education by teaching himself.

      Like

  5. Oh, that book looks superlative! (As does the almond cake.) 🙂 I miss the days when we collected so many picture books simply because we *read* so many picture books together. Now that my homeschooling days are almost over, perhaps I’ll have to open a school, a la Plumfield, and stock it with all the newest, superlative picture books.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your posts are always gorgeous, and I always learn something new. In this case, I learned a lot of new things I never knew about Lincoln. I love all of the poems you shared here, but my favorite is “Most Permissive Parent.” That cake looks so yummy, I’m keeping this recipe! Thanks so much, Jama!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a wonderful and delicious post. I’ve heard of this book. I know I need to get my hands on it for my students but, I haven’t yet. It’s adorable! And, informative. Thanks for the reminder. I”m putting this title on a wish list order right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was interested in reading about Lincoln, even though I am Canadian. (Don’t add me to the give away please)
    Lincoln might be American, but I am pretty sure that enjoyment of almond cake is universal. Thanks so much for the recipe.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you, Jama for this lovely blog post! What a great love story. I recall Sally Field playing Mary opposite Daniel Day Lewis. She did a wonderful job of capturing Mary’s essence.

    Happy belated Valentines Day!🥰

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a fun book of poems you have shared! And what a fun way for kids to learn about superlatives and President Lincoln – that’s a double bonus!

    This post is gorgeous with your teddy tea time pictures! Make me want to pull up a chair and have a bit of tea.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I LOVE this book (have shared with my class) and simply MUST try the pound cake. All that almond sounds heavenly. I make a recipe for ultra-fudgy brownies that has the surprise flavor of almond extract…yum!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is the MOST Lincoln-y post I have ever read! And so sweet and lovely! I think that book sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing it! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I first was attracted to this book when Karen Boss brought it to my attention last spring, but now I think I’ve fallen in love. Mr. Lincoln and I share a birthday—why shouldn’t I be entranced? I also loved learning about the early days of Abraham and Mary’s relationship. I’m a sucker for almond-flavored cookies and cakes, so I’m not surprised how it turned out! Lastly, Jama, may I please have an invitation to your next Valentine’s tea party with the teddies? Pretty please with sugar on top?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have a standing invitation to any and all tea parties here, Michelle. 🙂 I didn’t know you and Lincoln shared a birthday!! I have a friend in Hawai’i who was born on the 12th too, and my SIL was born on the 14th. Good February birthdays!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks for the peek into this delightful book. I love the whole concept of poetry/biography, and the poems you shared are delightful (especially love the Lincoln boys at play.) I recently read that Mary Todd Lincoln may have had pernicious anemia? Certainly plenty of reasons for her to have been troubled, from the loss of 3 sons to the experience of seeing her spouse assassinated. Yikes…tough life.
    Hope you had a happy Lincoln’s Birthday-Darwin’s Day!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Delicious post Jama! I met Eileen about a year ago at a small book gathering in Chicago, and she talked just a bit about this book. What wonderful Valentine’s spreads you’ve shared, and intriguing tidbits about Lincoln too–I like his quote about making a woman happy–he’s always been 10 feet tall in nature to me. Thanks, and Happy Belated Valentine’s Day!

    Liked by 1 person

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