The childhood of America's most beloved president is brought to life in Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books, an engaging picture-book biography by Kay Winters. Born in Kentucky in 1809, our 16th president lived with his family in a small, backwoods cabin, where "A tiny window looked out on his world." In simple, eloquent language, Winters follows Lincoln's childhood as the family moves to Knob Creek, Indiana, near the Cumberland Trail. When Abe meets the travelers that pass by their cabin "peddlers, pioneers, politicians, traders, slaves" we can sense his growing curiosity about the world, reflected in his love of books and learning.

Nancy Carpenter's illustrations are a delight. A versatile artist, she works in a variety of styles, always challenging herself to do something new and at the same time extending and enhancing the text. Here, her warm oil paintings and deceptively simple compositions lovingly evoke the early nineteenth century. Tiny touches provide details of everyday life: bonnets drape the bedposts, a flatiron sits on the mantelpiece, and when Abe's stepmother arrives to fill the void left by his mother's death, it's clear from the spilled milk and clutter in the cabin that Abe and his sister need her presence.

The theme of this portrait is love of books and learning. We see young Abe eager to spend time in school and tucking a book into his pocket in the midst of plowing chores: "When Abe plowed a book sat in his back pocket. At each row's end he'd take it out and read." As we all know, the young Lincoln found a way to follow a different path than splitting rails and farming. Abe's political career is covered in just a few spreads, and the book closes with a clearly written biographical note.

Flowing language, superb illustrations and loving attention to detail make this a welcome introduction to the young Abraham Lincoln. And at a time when electronic media is dominant, it's nice to be reminded that one of the reasons we admire Lincoln is that "he learned the power of words and used them well." Deborah Hopkinson's newest books for young readers are Our Kansas Home and Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings.

comments powered by Disqus