From the Publisher
Starred Review, School Library Journal, September 2008:
"What you can know for sure is that this is a book you should add to your shelves."
Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2008:
"[J]ust how do you handle a legend? Deborah Hopkinson has found a way, and it's a winner."
Starred Review, Booklist, September 15, 2008:
"This unusual and often amusing picture book offers much more than an illustrated reminiscence."
Children's Literature - Ann Farina
Long before he was president, Abe Lincoln was a little boy. This tale introduces Abe and his childhood playmate, Benjamin Austin Gollaher. Abe and Austin get into a bit of trouble when they do not heed the advice of Abe's mother. They try to cross the rushing creek after a heavy rain. Abe slips and falls in but is rescued by his loyal friend. Austin is a forgotten character in U.S. history, but his heroics that day long ago affected us all. The simple actions of a friend matter as much as the grand actions of a president. The author reminds us that we are all important. This entertaining and energetic book invites the reader into history. The characters, including our sixteenth president, are relatable and fun. The illustrations are just as inviting. The reader is encouraged to interact with the book, as we see the drawing hand and tools of the illustrator. The pictures include hazard signs, caution arrows, and speech bubbles with comments from the reader. The author provides great opportunities for the readers to learn about characters, setting, and other important story elements. We are also invited to ask questions of the story and view alternative plot elements. In other words, this is a teacher's read-aloud dream. Reviewer: Ann Farina
School Library Journal
Hopkinson has created a lively, participatory tale that will surely stand out among the many titles published to honor the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. With a conspiratorial wink at the audience, an omniscient narrator invites readers to watch seven-year-old Abe and his real-life friend Austin Gollaher succumb to the "dare you" lure of a roaring creek and a perilous crossing on a fallen log (an author's note details the genesis of the story). Imagine where we as a nation might be if unsung-hero Austin hadn't been there to rescue impetuous Abraham from his tumble into those tumultuous waters. In dialogic asides and exclamations, the author addresses the illustrator and brings him (or, rather, his pencil-wielding hand) onstage to collaborate and correct, and also speaks to readers, inviting involvement and evoking response. Hendrix's illustrations have a naive and rustic flavor that's in perfect harmony with the gravelly, homespun narrator's voice (keen-eyed readers will find a rendering of the storyteller in the endpaper art). Energetic spreads give a big, broad, horizontal view of the green Kentucky valley setting with its rambling curves, rolling mountains, and rushing waters, and a very effective impression of how long that creek-crossing must have seemed...maybe. "For that's the thing about history," Hopkinson says, "if you weren't there, you can't know for sure." What you can know for sure is that this is a book you should add to your shelves.-Kathy Krasniewicz, Perrot Library, Old Greenwich, CT
Abe Lincoln's childhood friend Austin Gollaher changed the course of history when he rescued the future president from a swollen Kentucky creek in 1816. That true story is the jumping-off point for this lively exploration of the more slippery aspects of history writing: "For that's the thing about history-if you weren't there, you can't know for sure," says the folksy first-person narrator. To that end, Hopkinson and Hendrix, in wonderful watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations, explore alternate versions of what might have happened that fateful day. Abe was walking across a tree bridge . . . but, no! Wouldn't he have crawled? The author-as-narrator imagines the reader's responses ("What's that you're saying?"), describes the story-in-progress ("Wait, I'm trying to remember what happens next") and invokes the illustrator, too ("John, could you please stop painting that noisy water?"). While all the sound effects and story interruptions, especially mid-stream, might be effective in a read-aloud session, they could otherwise become frustrating. It may not keep kids out of creeks, but this plucky Kentucky romp may well spawn a future historian or two. (author's note) (Informational picture book. 5-8)