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Use a "Book Backdrop" to extend literature across the curriculum and develop historical thinking!

Pair children’s literature with historical primary sources from the Library of Congress and the National Archives to extend learning across the curriculum. Make books and reading more relevant by connecting the story with primary sources. Use this strategy to promote critical thinking and inquiry-based learning. Here is an example using the children's book Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers.


Mr. Lincoln without whiskers.
From the Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a10370/. Thought to be the last beardless portrait of Lincoln. Photo was taken for portrait painter John Henry Brown who noted "that there are so many hard lines in his face...it becomes a mask to the inner man...he is said to be a homely man--I don't think so." Source Lincoln's Photographs: a Complete Album by Lloyd Ostendrorf, Dayton, Ohio: Rockywood Press, 1998.

Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers by Karen B. Winnick, author and illustrator


The Advice of a Little Girl (Lincoln Exhibit)

Grace's Letter to Mr. Lincoln

Transcription of Grace's letter

Hon A B Lincoln Westfield Chatauque Co

Dear Sir, Oct 15. 1860

My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin's. I am a little girl only eleven years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brother's and part of them will vote for you any way and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband's to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is a going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to but I will try and get every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter dir[e]ct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chatauque County New York

I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye

Grace Bedell

Grace Bedell to Abraham Lincoln, October 15, 1860, Westfield, NY, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 4: 130, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.

President Lincoln's letter to Grace


Springfield, Illinois,
October 19th, 1860.
My dear little Miss:
Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received. I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughter. I have three sons -- one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family. As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?
A. Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln to Grace Bedell, Friday, October 19, 1860 (Reply to Bedell's letter concerning Lincoln's beard)

Smithsonian Class Activities with //Lincoln's Whiskers//

Abraham Lincoln's Beard

Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers Book Backdrop by Gay Thistle, Waynesburg University

Education World Lesson Plan: Teaching the five parts of a letter using //Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers//

Paulsen_-_Soldier's_Heart_Coverart.jpg Jackie.jpg
Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen is a story about Charley Goddard who at age 15 manages to join the Minnesota Volunteers during the Civil War. Charley takes part in several of the war's big battles including Gettysburg. He endures the ugliness of war and at age 20 is injured and sent home. Explore the possibilities of this story: medical treatments, post-traumatic stress, mental health, treatment of soldiers, etc.

with permission from Waynesburg University

Examples of "Book Backdrops" from Waynesburg University TPS.

Creating Dramatic Monologues from the Grapes of Wrath from Discovery Education

Book Lists from the Library of Congress - examples of books that students can read and augment with primary sources

Digitized Classic Books from the LOC

Literature Expeditions