Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells.
Me and Willie and Pa by F.N. Monjo.
Rosemary Wells’ fictionalized memoir of Abraham Lincoln and his sons, Willie and Tad, was nominated for a Cybil Award. So I read it. Of course, it reminded me of F.N. Monjo’s (out of print) classic in the same genre and with the same subject, Me and Willie and Pa, published in 1973. So I got that one down and re-read it.
Monjo’s book includes a lot more information. Neither book is very long. Me and Willie and Pa is 94 (large) pages long. The Wells book is 93 pages, but smaller. However, Monjo’s book has a lot more stories about the war and about Lincoln’s jokes and anecdotes. Although Ms. Wells probably has the right end of the stick, having Willie, then Tad tell only about those incidents and stories that a young boy would be interested in and know about, I must say as an adult I enjoyed reading Me and Willie and Tad more because of the extra information. Perhaps Lincoln and HIs Boys would be more appropriate to recommend to third and fourth graders, while Me and Willie and Pa could be given to fifth and sixth graders, although those age guidelines certainly aren’t hard and fast rules.
Both books present the same picture of Lincoln as a father, indulgent to a fault. He allowed his boys to invade cabinet meetings, play soldier by ordering guards around, and accompany him on visits to the troops. When either the politicians or Mary Lincoln complained that Mr. Lincoln was spoiling the boys, both books agree that Lincoln paid them no mind and continued to allow his sons the freedom to be rowdy, noisy, and spirited. We’ll never know if Lincoln’s indulgent child-rearing practices would have made Tad and Willie into strong, independent men or spoiled rotten brats. Willie died uirng Lincoln’s first term in office, and Tad died in Chicago three months after his eighteenth birthday. Maybe in light of their early deaths, it’s good to know that they had a very happy childhood and a loving father.
Mary Lincoln has always been a problematic character, and both books tell about her overwhelming grief after Willie’s death and about her free-spending ways in dressing and in decorating the White House. However, in Lincoln and His Boys, Mary Lincoln seems like a loving wife and mother and a well-meaning, if sometimes misunderstood, First Lady. Monjo’s portrayal includes a couple of stories that cast Mrs. Lincoln in a harsher light, including a story about her screaming in a jealous rage when Mr. Lincoln went out to review the troops alongside a pretty general’s wife.
Ms. Wells ends her story with President Lincoln and Tad in Richmond, Lincoln ordering the band to play “Dixie” because “it’s Federal property now.” Mr. Monjo ends his narrative with Lincoln’s assassination, and he has Tad ask the poignant question, “How could anyone want to hurt my Pa?”
I’d recommend either or both books for an introduction to Lincoln and the Civil War and for a tender story of a father who loved his sons and gave them the foundation of a father’s attention and joy in being with them. The stories about Lincoln and his relations with his family and with the people around him are always endearing and somewhat sentimental and heart-tugging. He was a complicated man (aren’t we all?), but these books present one aspect of his character quite well: his love for his young sons.