Monday, February 04, 2013

323 - 324 (2013 #7 & #8). Two More Books about Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley


I picked up these two books from the children's section of my local public library the same day I picked up my hold on Jennifer Chiaverini's latest book, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker.  These two have oddly similar titles.

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: The Unlikely Friendship of Elizabeth Keckley & Mary Todd Lincoln, by Lynda Jones, is an 80-page nonfiction book published by National Geographic.  It outlines Mary's and Elizabeth's story in nine short chapters, but is richly illustrated with period photographs and drawings, albeit in black and white.  It includes an index and bibliography, as well as the sources for all quotations used in the book for dialogue.

The book's design is lovely.  As noted on the verso page,

The patterns behind the images on the chapter opening pages are from fabrics popular in the mid to late 1800s.  Each pattern was chosen to reflect the setting and economic level of the chapter's part of the narrative [which tends to alternate between Mary and Elizabeth].  For example, the pattern on page 14 is a simple homespun pattern used to introduce Elizabeth's childhood [as a slave].  The fabric patterns become more elaborate as time progresses.  Exceptions include the backgrounds on page 52, which is bunting to reflect the election theme, and on page 70, which is taken from the quilt Elizabeth made from scraps of material left over from the dresses she made for Mary Todd Lincoln [with a striking photo superimposed of Elizabeth from the 1890s].

I'd recommend this book for anyone, adult or child, wanting to learn the basics about the relationship of these two women of history.


An Unlikely Friendship: A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley, by Ann Rinaldi, is historical fiction about these two women.  It opens on April 14, 1865, with a prologue with scenes just before and after the assassination of Lincoln, relayed through third-person narration.

This is followed by a section on Mary Todd's early life in Lexington, Kentucky, beginning when she is seven and about to get a new stepmother, up to the point where she moves to Springfield, Illinois, to live with her sister, at age nineteen.  This part is told in first person.  Then, there is a short chapter, again told in third person, about "What Happened after Mary Todd Met Abraham Lincoln," which ends with Mary hiring Elizabeth Keckley as her dressmaker in Washington, D.C., in 1861.

Next, there is a section told in first person from Elizabeth's viewpoint, about her early years as a slave, beginning at age four and ending at age eighteen in 1839, with the birth of her son George, the result of an unwanted sexual relationship with a man to whom her owner hired her out.  This is followed by a final third-person chapter on Elizabeth's following years, obtaining her freedom, and establishing her business, up to the point where she meets Mary Todd Lincoln.

The epilogue is brief (nine pages), again told in third person, about their White House period, with only a couple pages of those nine on their long post-assassination lives. The book concludes with an author's note and bibliography.

Although written for ages 10 and up, I feel this book is appropriate for adults as well.  It provides insights into the early lives of these two women that can lead one to see why a friendship developed.  It's a good complement to Jennifer Chiaverini's Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, which concentrates on Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley from the White House years onward.

And, I love the note printed on the back of the dust jacket:  "WARNING:  This is a historical novel.  Read at your own risk.  The writer feels it necessary to alert you to the fact that you might enjoy it."

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[These books were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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