Teaching History With Children’s Literature: Lincoln and Douglass An American Friendship


There are many children’s books pertaining to the Civil War, but these books often explain the Civil War from only one perspective. Nikki Giovanni’s book Lincoln and Douglass An American Friendship weaves the stories of a famous President and an escaped slave. Comparing the childhood experiences and adult lives of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, Giovanni portrays and unlikely friendship that has a major impact in abolishing slavery.

The setting begins at the White House at the reception of Lincoln’s reelection with the President anticipating the arrival of his friend Douglass. The times it takes for the two to meet through the crowds simulates the great struggles both faced in order to finally unite at the White House. Alternating in pages, Giovanni provides information on how each man educated himself and their early hatred of slavery in the south.

Douglass worked as a ship caulker on the Baltimore shore. He longed to sail to freedom on one of the ships that he often watched heading out to sea. The first time Lincoln hauled farm produce down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, the journey opened his eyes to the world around him.”

In addition to providing the childhood experiences which leads Lincoln and Douglass to meeting at the President’s reception, Lincoln and Douglass includes biographical information of other abolitionists like┬áJohn Brown and Mary Ellen Pleasant. Emphasizing the failed attempt at Harper’s Ferry and the general struggles in abolishing slavery, this book puts into perspective the extensive time it took for the emancipation of slaves.

Giovanni’s text of the two men is supported through Bryan Collier’s cut-paper collages and illustrations. The combination is subtle and it is only through looking closely that the overlapping is noticeable. Even though appearing simple, these illustrations greatly support the text. In the excerpt above about Lincoln, Collier uses a rural scene with trees in the background which are covered with the faces of slaves. Through both Giovanni’s text and Collier’s collages, readers will gain an understanding of two important men in the quest to end slavery.

Curriculum Connections
Lincoln and Douglass
is a great way to introduce a class to the abolitionist movement during the Civil War. By explaining both biographies and their personal struggles in dealing with slavery, readers will understand one of the┬áreasons that led to the division of the nation prior to the Civil War (In Virginia this correlates with VS.7). In addition to using this book for a Civil War study, it is can be used to understand the personal history of these men to celebrate Presidents’ Day or Black History Month.

Additional Resources

  • These Graphic Organizers can serve help students compare and contrast Douglass and Lincoln after the reading.
  • Social Studies for Kids has links to many subjects of the Civil War including slavery, battles, reconstruction, the Underground Railroad, medicine, and emancipation.
  • Students can learn more about Abraham Lincoln by investigating quick facts, short stories, timelines, photographs, quotations, and puzzles about him.

Book: Lincoln and Douglass An American Friendship
Author: Nikki Giovanni
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: 2008
Pages:40 pages
Grades: 3-5
ISBN: 0805082646

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