Newsletter, Volume 14, Number 1


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The Bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin's Birthdays

rocksinhishead (7K)

There's good news here. Virginia Duncan editor-in-chief of Candlewick Books let me know that Mom's Rocks in His Head is going to begin a second printing. For those who don't know, my mom, Carol Otis Hurst, wrote "Rocks in His Head," her first picture book, in 2001.

It is illustrated by James Stevenson and won a Boston Horn Book Honor Award. It has been translated into Japanese and is most people's favorite book by my mom.

It is the story of her dad who owned a small filling station in Springfield, Massachusetts but whose real passion was always collecting minerals. When he lost the gas station and his home in the Depression he found a job as a janitor at the Springfield Science Museum to feed his wife and seven kids. From janitor he was promoted to head of mineralogy and eventually to director of the museum.

The new printing is great news. Mom would have been thrilled. She was always quite unabashed in her delight in good news.

More Information on Rocks in His Head. Order Information through

Let's build on the momentum of all these mentions of Lincoln in the recent inaugural celebrations.

Remarkably, both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on February 12, 1809. In 2009 we mark the 200th anniversary of both their births.

It's easy to draw parallels between these two influential men. Themes of truth and of championing new possibilities in how we see our world are common to both. The world would never be the same.

Fortunately there are many wonderful books available on both these men and on slavery, the Civil War, naturalists and evolution. Here are my suggestions for kids' books as well as some adult resources.

I like to include recommendations of adult resources because they can be so useful for teachers. Use them to broaden your own background on a subject or curl up with one at the end of the day as a way to fire your own inspiration. Passion is contagious and if any of these adult works help get you inspired they will have justified the space in the newsletter. Let me know if you find them useful.

Picture Books:

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Hopkinson, Deborah. Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend). (2008, Random/Schwartz & Wade. ISBN 9780375837685.) Picture Book. 40p. 5 stars. Gr PreK-3.
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Using a disarmingly casual voice Hopkinson retells a supposedly true episode in 7 year old Lincoln's life. Speaking directly to the reader the tone is intimate as she and the illustrator describe various ways the incident may have played out. A good introduction to Lincoln for younger kids and a nice device to use with older students studying narrator and voice in writing as well as the process historians use to understand the past.

Denenberg, Barry. Illustrated by Christopher Bing. Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered. (2008, Feiwel and Friends. ISBN 9780312370138.) Nonfiction. 40p. 4 stars. Gr 5-8.
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The size itself, 12 by 18 inches, will grab some readers attention. Inside they'll find themselves in 1866, one year after Lincoln's assassination reading a fictional newspaper commemorating the event. Although entirely fictional it has the feel of a period newspaper.

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McGinty, Alice B. Darwin. Illustrated by Mary Azarian. (2009, Houghton. ISBN 9780618995318.) Picture Book. Nonfiction. 5 stars. 48p. Gr 1-4.
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This biographical picture book is illustrated by Mary Azarian who won the Caldecott Medal in 1999 for her illustrations in the picture book Snowflake Bentley, one of our favorites. Here she is again with beautiful woodcuts, this time of Charles Darwin's life. The brilliant writing and well chosen quotes from Darwin's own writing do a remarkable job of explaining his work to younger students. Cover Art

Sis, Peter. The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin. (2003, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374456283.) Picture Book. Nonfiction. 5 stars. 44p. Gr 4-6.
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Combining a biography with a chronicling of his scientific work this is a labor of love. The watercolor, pen and ink illustrations draw the eye to look more closely.


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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. (2009, Holt. ISBN 9780805088410. Order Info.) Novel. 340 pages. Gr 4-8.
Set in 1899 Texas this is the coming of age story of Calpurnia, the lone daughter in a family with six brothers. She longs to be a naturalist and is fascinated by the development of species while the gender roles set out for her continually thwart the discovery of her ambitions in science. Read More.

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Schultz, Mark et al. The Stuff of Life: a Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA. (2009. Hill & Wang. ISBN 9780809094943.) Graphic Novel. 160p. 5 stars. Gr 6-12.
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A brilliantly executed use of comics to explore a scientific subject. This is really more of a nonfiction book even though it is peppered throughout with alien cartoon characters who are trying to understand life on earth. Booklist Magazine says, "Good enough to be a supplementary, and in some cases primary, classroom text."

Bryant, Jen. Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial. (2008, Knopf. ISBN 9780375840470.) Novel. 227p. 4 stars. Gr 7-12.
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Told from multiple points of view this is a good introduction to some of the early fall out from Darwin's discoveries.


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Freeman, Russell. Lincoln, A Photobiography. (1989, Sandpiper. ISBN 9780395518489.) Nonfiction. Biography. 160p. 5 stars. Gr 4-7.
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Freedman received the Newbery Award for this masterful biography of Lincoln in which the complicated nature of the witty storyteller and astute politician at times overwhelmed by melancholy is revealed. A thorough and well researched biography generously illustrated with drawings and period photos.

Fritz, Jean. Illustrated by Charles Robinson. Just a Few Words, Mr Lincoln: The Story of the Gettysburg Address. An All Aboard Reading Series book. (1993, Grosset & Dunlap. ISBN 0448401703.) Nonfiction. Easy Reader. 48p. 3 stars. Gr 2-4.
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Fritz gives us an easy-to-read book about the writing of the Gettysburg Address. After giving us a very brief background about the times and the occasion, Fritz tells us what really happened before and after the words were uttered. The opening lines are very simplistically pro-North. Otherwise a nice work.

Allen, Thomas B. And Roger McBride Allen. Mr. Lincoln's High-Tech War. (2008, National Geographic. ISBN 9781426303791.) Nonfiction. 144p. 4 stars. Gr 6-10.
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The Civil War saw big changes in weaponry technology as well as the use of the telegraph. This book, generous with illustrations and sidebars, brings us back in time to see the technology from a 19th century perspective.

Fleming, Candace. The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. (2008. Schwartz & Wade/Random. ISBN 9780375936180.) Nonfiction. 181p. 5 stars. Gr 4-9.
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Copious photos and illustrations make this book accessible to a wide range of age and ability levels. There's a nice balance here of information on both the President and the First Lady. Good for reports or browsing.

Sandler, Martin W. Lincoln through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life. (2008, Walker. ISBN 9780802796660.) Nonfiction. 96p. 4 stars. Gr 7-12.
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The amazing photos will grab browsers attention and the well written text will deepen their knowledge. An excellent classroom resource.

Bradley, James V. How Species Change. (2006, Chelsea. ISBN 079109118X.) Nonfiction. 80p. 3 stars. Gr 3-6.
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Classification, Darwin and natural selection are described with photos, illustrations and sidebars.

Gamlin, Linda. Eyewitness: Evolution. (2000, Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 9780789455796.) Nonfiction. 64p. 4 stars. Gr 3-8.
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In a vein similar to many Dorling Kindersley books Gamlin uses striking photos against a white background to provide enticing illustrations for a discussion of evolution. From millions of years ago to the present you'll find examples of the process of evolution. Great for browsing.

Anderson, Margaret J. Charles Darwin: Naturalist. (2001, Enslow. ISBN 9780766027947.) Nonfiction. Biography. Part of "Great Minds of Science" series. 3 stars. Gr 4-6.
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This biography is not as well written as others in the series but it still fills a needed role. A basic accessible biography of the scientist.

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Kelley, Erica and Richard Kissel. Evolving Planet: Four Billion Years of Life on Earth. (2008, Abrams. ISBN 9780810994867.) Nonfiction. 136p. 5 stars. Gr 4-8.
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This is a substantial book which gives a broad overview of life from early one-celled animals to hominids. Darwin's work on natural selection is prominent.

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Heiligman, Deborah. Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith. (2009, Holt. ISBN 9780805087215.) Nonfiction. Biography. 278p. 4 stars. Gr 6-10.
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Heiligman has combined science with romance to give us a view of Charles Darwin's personal life. Specifically we get to see how he and his wife grappled with the implications of the discovery of evolution and his theory of natural selection. Their relationship serves as a microcosm of the conflict between religion and science that humanity, too, would have to reconcile.

Adult Resources:

McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln As Commander in Chief. (2008. Penguin. ISBN 9781594201912.) Nonfiction. 329p. 4 stars. Gr 10-12.
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Written for adults this could also be used by older teens. The focus is on how Lincoln, with very limited military experience, created the idea of commander in chief and became, arguably, the best in our history. Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of numerous Civil War books.

Miller, William Lee. Lincolns Virtues: An Ethical Biography. (2002. Vintage. ISBN 9780375701733.) Nonfiction. 544p. 4 stars.
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This nonfiction book for adults goes into depth exploring Lincoln's moral values --- specifically honesty, as in Honest Abe. A fascinating exploration of the subject.

Slotkin, Richard. Abe: A Novel of the Young Lincoln. (2000, Holt. ISBN 9780805066395.) Novel. 496p. 5 stars.
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This excellent novel for adults is great for putting one in the mindset of delving into the year-long marking of Lincoln's birthday. It appears to be out of print at the moment but is widely available used or through libraries.

Coyne, Jerry A. Why Evolution Is True. (2009, Viking. ISBN 9780670020539.) Nonfiction. 320p. 4 stars. Gr 10-12.
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For adults and older students this lays out the clear scientific basis for why the theory of evolution is also established scientific fact. Genes do change and natural selection does favor certain changes (witness the development of drug-resistant viruses). A thorough covering of the topic to help you answer students questions. Includes discussion of the concerns of creationists.

Miller, Kenneth R. Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (2008, Viking Adult. 9780670018833.) Nonfiction. 256p. 4 stars. Gr 9-12.
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This calm, reasonable discussion of the theory of evolution and the beliefs of the proponents of Intelligent Design is well researched and respectfully explored. One of the better books of its type. Written for adults it is appropriate for teens or for adults looking for help in articulating the debate to younger students.

Darwin, Charles. Ed. by Frederick Burkhardt. The Beagle Letters: Charles Darwin's Letters, 1831-1836. (2008, Cambridge. ISBN 9780521898386.) Nonfiction. Primary Source. 470p. 5 stars. Order Information through


Darwin, Charles. Ed. by Frederick Burkhardt. Origins: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1822-1859; Anniversary Edition. (2008, Cambridge. ISBN 9780521898621.) Nonfiction. Primary Source. 253p. 5 stars. Gr 10-12.
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Because Darwin was exceedingly prolific in writing it is essential to have an edited selection such as this two volume set if you want to delve into the primary sources. Burkhardt starts with a 12 year old Darwin's diary entries and provides clarifying and contextual notes to create an ongoing narrative through Darwin's own words.
This set is geared toward adults but can be used as a source for specific letters in encouraging students to go to primary sources for information. The Darwin letters are also available online at:

Related Areas of Carol Hurst Children's Literature Site:

The Civil War through Children's Books:

Slavery in the US through Children's Books:

Biographies and Memoirs for Children:

Other Related Websites:

KidsClick Listings for Abraham Lincoln Sites:

Wikipedia has a thorough and well documented article on Lincoln:

Images of Abraham Lincoln Google Search:

Wikipedia's thorough and well documented article on Darwin:

About Dedicated to the Life and Times of Charles Darwin:

Images of Charles Darwin Google Search:,+charles

KidsClick Listings of Evolution Sites:

The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online:
Includes his private papers and his books.

That's it for today. Happy reading!

Rebecca Otis