Book Review: The Gettysburg Address By Sam Fink

Today is dear old Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I always feel kind of sorry for his day as it gets quite overshadowed by all the red and hearts of the coming holiday. So, in honor of our 16th President, I’m here to share one of my favorite historical picture books. This is The Gettysburg Address, inscribed and illustrated by Sam Fink, 2007.

First off, let’s admire the cloth cover of the book. Isn’t it stunning?

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With its vibrant purple and engraved lettering from the beginning of the address, this cover speaks of the power and beauty that is in between its pages.

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As a child, I really didn’t care much for historical anything. With a vivid imagination, I devoured books of fantasy, science-fiction, and colorful or bizarre creatures. Perhaps an illustrated book like this would have helped me focus in on something so incredibly important in our American history.

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An introduction by Gabor Boritt tells of the impact Lincoln’s famous speech has had around the world and the positive action that the words have sparked. Following that, illustrator Sam Fink challenges the reader to recognize that the words “tell us where we’ve been, who we are and what we should strive to be.”

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Combining hand-lettered portions of the speech with symbolic illustrations of each phrase, Fink brings the Gettysburg Address to life. The speech is word for word, as far as I know, but every page turn and illustration helps you stop and ponder the meaning of the selected words.

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On the left side of each spread, there are smaller quotes and illustrations relating to Lincoln himself and the impact he had on our nation.

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Although it technically qualifies as a picture book, there are several disclaimers I must make. First off, this book is large. Standing over 15 inches tall and 10 inches wide, it is a thing to wield. Secondly, it is also very long. The pages average 5-10 words of the speech, and that adds up quickly in page count. Thirdly, the text as I said, is not explained outside of the images; so the content is heavy and requests contemplation.

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And my last note is that the illustrations are occasionally a little graphic. Lincoln talks of battlefields, fires, and death; and Fink does not ignore the reality of those images. Just as Lincoln’s speech was in part to remember the past that we have built upon, Fink portrays that very thing.

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All this being said, here is why I like this book. I am an incredibly visual person. When I discovered this piece, I felt it was the first time I really stopped and pondered what it was Lincoln was saying. Images have a way of moving people much more than mere words. While the words themselves are incredibly powerful, Sam Fink does a stunning job giving them visual impact as well. With all my disclaimers in mind, I would choose wisely the audience of this book; while also recognizing the importance of sharing the truth about history and what cost many before us have paid.

Sam Fink was a master illustrator and calligrapher. His work was pored into recreating some of our civilization’s most important documents including this book, The Book of Exodus, and The Constitution of the United States of America. Here is an interview with him on Random House and a NY Times article about his death in 2011.

Also, if you are looking for more Lincoln books for the day, check out this brand new one by Lane Smith that Philip Nel discusses on his blog today. It’s a beauty! I’m also a fan of this 1964 one by Bernard Waber, Just Like Abraham Lincoln. Anyone out there donning a stovepipe hat in honor of Mr. Lincoln?


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