Nov 9, 2021

TAD LINCOLN'S RESTLESS WRIGGLE: An Unbeatable Nonfiction Picture Book

Calkins Creek, 2021

Other than actually reading wonderful books, there are few things I enjoy more than supporting fabulous picture books. Perhaps the one thing that wriggles close to that special place in my heart is cheering for the talented creators of those books, since  I know I can count on them for even more wonderful books in the future. That's why I was  honored and excited to feature author BETH ANDERSON in an interview (HERE)  about her October release, TAD LINCOLN'S RESTLESS WRIGGLE: Pandemonium and Patience in the President's House, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

I deeply admire Abe Lincoln. Specifically,  I respect his humanity, his vulnerability, his morality. Even so, it's not as if we NEEDED another book about Lincoln for young readers, did we? If you want to test the limits of the internet, do a search for LINCOLN PICTURE BOOKS and be prepared to scroll endlessly! Despite that, we did, indeed, need this book.

Tad's story is a rarity, and is told to perfection in Anderson's new nonfiction offering. Tad's peculiarities and his relationship with his Papa have not been readily available for any of us, but especially not for young audiences. Before (or after) reading my thoughts and review, please take a moment to read Beth's responses to my questions about her process in developing this manuscript, including the ways that she researched and realized that her original story idea would become a subplot within a better story, one that would resonate with kids across time. 

Anderson's revelations and insights involving Tad encompass Civil War history, individual differences, social and political expectations, creativity, and patterns of daily life in THE PRESIDENT'S HOUSE, now commonly referred to as THE WHITE HOUSE. Written with heart and humanity, the story of a tender and mutually supportive relationship between Abe and Tad stretches across the complex scaffolding of a year of grief, stress, and exhausting demands. High-energy and always innovating,Tad struggles with articulate speech and self-regulation while his Papa suffers the intense grief of his other son's recent death, the cruel pain and loss of life from Civil War battles, and the competing pressures for his time and attention from top echelon politicos to every day citizens with individual concerns. 

Interior, S.D. Schindler: Tad Lincoln's  Restless Wriggle

Tad's introduction begins at birth, when his restless wriggle inspires Abe's nickname for him- Tad, as in tadpole. It's a perfect start to this narrative. The main text extends across a year of Tad's preteen life in which the course of the war, personal grief, and Tad's efforts to prove his worth emerge through a series of (well-documented) anecdotal episodes in which Tad tests the patience and tolerance of most adults in his world. Any young reader now, or in the future, will likely empathize with Tad's well-intentioned decisions and impulses that go both comically and crushingly wrong. The President is criticized often for being too easy on "the boy", for sparing the rod and spoiling the child. Just look at illustrator Schindler's  interior spread.

What Anderson's narrative and scenes reveal is a range of powerful and emotional bonds that strengthened and soothed Abe in his darkest hours.Tad's deep love of Papa and the solace he took from unconditional acceptance and encouragement, from sensing his father's respect and pride, allowed Tad to bear the teasing and open rebukes he faced from adults and children alike. 

S. D. Schindler, Interior, Tad and Abe at table

Before reading this I had often heard (and read) of Lincoln's wit and humor, of the effective ways he used that spirit to defuse tense situations, to elevate the entertainment value of his popular storytelling, and to emphasize a point without being offensive. That is an endearing quality in anyone, but especially in someone maneuvering the levers of power and burdened with the consequences of his choices. 

In this revelatory narrative about Tad Lincoln and his very special needs and strengths, that capacity for humor and wry insight served Lincoln's parenting immeasurably. That old saying about facing challenges is often true:

If you can't laugh, you'll cry. 

There was no lack of tears during Lincoln's life, especially during his presidency. The opportunity to chuckle, to put an upbeat spin on Tad's eager actions undoubtedly relieved inevitable pain and tears. From any number of accounts in adult writings, Lincoln struggled with depression/melancholy and Tad's loving, laughing spirits may have been the very balm Abe needed most. 

Back matter notes provide further indicators of the research and revelations that led to Tad's starring role in this new picture book. Anderson is careful to clarify how and why she selected her descriptions about Tad's physical or neuro-diverse patterns, since documentation was scarce and certainly limited by the era in which any form of evaluation was done. This is a characteristic of Anderson's writing, that students, teachers, and readers in general can rely on content presented to be verifiable and accurately described. 

Before reading this I expected to be impresses and entertained. I did not expect to be so moved and to gain even greater respect for Papa Lincoln, and nor for his son, Tad. For that, I am grateful to the author and to the illustrator. And, as I said above, I'm expecting future exciting offerings from both.

@Bandersonwriter (Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram) 


illustrated by S.D. Schindler, Calkins Creek 
OCT 5, 2021

As I hoped, Beth will have some exciting releases scheduled in coming seasons. Just note that the current issues with production and shipping may shift the indicated dates later. Even so, when publication details are confirmed, I'll be sharing news and reviews and maybe even interviews about these anticipated releases wen the time comes:

illustrated by Susan Reagan, Calkins Creek. Spring 2022

FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, illustrated by Caroline Hamel, Kids Can Press, spring 2022.

THOMAS JEFFERSON’S BATTLE FOR SCIENCE: BIAS, TRUTH, AND A MIGHTY MOOSE, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes, Calkins Creek, Fall 2023.


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  3. Thanks so much for popping in with your response, Beth. This is a book that should be in every school/public/classroom library, and I'm excited to be able to support it, and you!


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