Barretta adopts a familiar narrative device, contrasting the lives—separated by a century—of presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
On facing pages and within spreads, he presents similarities in the two men’s lives—some monumental, others mere oddities. Poignantly, the Lincoln and Kennedy families each lost two children, one before and one during their lives in the White House. Barretta portrays each man’s relationship to civil rights, collating Lincoln’s successful 1860 election with the new Republican Party’s opposition to slavery. The ensuing Civil War weighed heavily: “Lincoln agonized over the casualties on both sides of the battlefield. In his eyes, every soldier was still an American.” In 1863, Lincoln met successfully with Frederick Douglass, previously his critic. In 1963, Kennedy proposed new civil rights legislation, met with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and declared that the descendants of slaves were not fully free. The nation would “not be fully free until all its citizens are free.” Barretta’s full-bleed watercolors caricature both people and events. Two maps with keys—one depicting slave and free states, the other, the Soviet Union and communist countries (all unnamed)—are weak elements. The jumpy, back-and-forth format renders the achievements and complexities of each man less intelligible then a linear presentation would, and the assassinations are trivialized by a bulleted list of coincidences.
Marred by its own contrivances. (further facts, trivia, unsourced quotes, glossary, sources) (Informational picture book. 7-10)