Friday, January 25, 2013

Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman

Looking at Lincoln is a picture book biography by the inimitable Maira Kalman. Her cheerful artwork always makes me smile. Influences of surrealism, fauvism and French impressionism are there, along with her signature panache. After all, history isn't complete without hats and cake!

Many of the bright paintings in the book made an appearance in 2009 in Kalman's illustrated column for the New York Times online, where she wrote about her fascination with Abraham Lincoln. More images are also at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Most pages in Looking at Lincoln have only a few sentences, choice facts about his amazing life. I learned that he went to school for only one year, and then taught himself after that.

"One day he was kicked in the head by a mule. He slept for two days. Then he woke up and grew up and decided to be a lawyer. (He did like to argue.)"

A similar thing happened to Sir James Hector when he was on an expedition through the Canadian Rockies in 1858. Hector was kicked unconscious by a horse and believed dead, which is how Kicking Horse Pass on the Alberta/B.C. border got its name. Hector went on to live many years in New Zealand afterwards, where his name is still quite famous... but probably not on par with Lincoln.

Kalman has made a whimsical addition to the "over 16,000 books" already written about Lincoln. Great for all ages, from preschoolers to adults.
Detail from Kalman's Looking at Lincoln. It reminds me of the time I was volunteering at the gate of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and had refused entry to a couple of guys who didn't have tickets to the sold-out event. They had come all the way from the States because they were fans of a particular band. I was momentarily puzzled when one of them asked if Ben Franklin would change my mind about letting them in. Occasionally people would toss around festival producer Terry Wickham's name in hopes of getting through the gate, but I couldn't think of who this Franklin guy was. Then the fact that they were Americans helped me realize what offer was being made. No money changed hands, but I did direct them to where they could hear the music they wanted from outside the perimeter fence.

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