With any topic we are studying, I desire to have a literature spine from which to anchor our study.We love a good living book! We had planned to do a week-long unit study on Abraham Lincoln in honor of President's Day, so were thrilled to have the opportunity to review the book provided by Inspiring the American Dream called Abraham's Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream by Robert and Kathleen Basmadjian!
Abraham's Journey is about a young boy who has been told by his parents that, because of their recent job losses, their family will not be able to afford Christmas gifts this year. When Abraham goes off alone to text his friends to see if they know of any odd jobs he might be able to do for money, Abraham Lincoln "comes out" of his cell phone and pulls him into cyberspace where he travels and meets some important people from history: Martin Luther King, Jr., Normal Rockwell, Amelia Earhart, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates. While on his journey, young Abraham learns that he has a talent for painting, gains some advice about how to market his skill, and sells one of his paintings to Bill and Melinda Gates. He uses the money to surprise his family with Christmas gifts and then uses more of the money to provide for folks at a homeless shelter.
I read the paperback book aloud to my children who are ages 9 and 7. They could have easily read the book independently, as it is only about 30 pages long and written in an easy-to-read style, but we were using it as a read-aloud for our current unit.
Unfortunately, my review of the book is not a positive one. The book was not believable to my children and, to me, was disjointed. I found myself confused about several things:
- Why was Abraham Lincoln only referred to as "The Wise Old Man" in the book, after his initial self-introduction as "Abraham"? The fact that ABRAHAM LINCOLN was talking to a young boy seems rather important to me, and I wish that would have been the focus character of the book. I don't think many people can deny that President Lincoln exemplified someone who fought for the "American Dream" for all people.
- Why were the other historical figures chosen? One can certainly understand why Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been highlighted, and Norman Rockwell was a necessary character to the story to help young Abraham be "discovered" by a famous artist. But I just didn't get where Amelia Earhart, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates came into the picture. It didn't make much sense. Why were Amelia Earhart and Mark Zuckerberg together? My kids did not know who any of these people were, so the characters did not have an impact on the kids when they read about them in the story. I had to stop and explain who each of the characters were, which caused disruption in the story.
- What definition of the "American Dream" were the authors using? I do not think happening upon a talent, being in the right place at the right time, and knowing the right (rich) people is the "American Dream" I want my children to seek. In fact, I desire the opposite for them. I understand that some find this definition of the "American Dream" to be appropriate, and that is completely fine. It is just not what we are teaching our children and I had a hard time getting over that.
- Why did a young boy have a smartphone if his family had no money? Well, I realize lots of people have disjointed priorities, and it might have seemed like a good way to be relevant to today's kids, but the book is intended for children ages 7-12. My 7 and 9 year old do not have cell phones and will not for at least several more years, probably not until they are over the age of 12. The story would have been more believable to them had they happened across Abraham Lincoln at an opening to a slide at the playground.
I was so hoping and expecting this book to be about how having a strong faith and resolve, good will and a hard-working and inspired lifestyle would work together to achieve the "American Dream". Again, I think a lot of the disconnect occurred because of the varying degrees of understanding of the "American Dream".
I did ask my kids what they thought of the book. Their response was, "It was weird." I said, "Why?" My daughter said, "Because he went into a cell phone." I asked her if she believed the story and she said, "no." We read a lot of fictional stories where characters do things that are not physically possible. So, I thought it was interesting that she thought this story was unbelievable. The kids were hung up on things that didn't allow them to get into the story. Unfortunately, the book did not end up enhancing our unit study on Abraham Lincoln at all.
The last pages of the book do provide a Definition of Terms section and Character Biographies, which were actually more enlightening than the text of the book itself. Perhaps if we would have read these pages first, the book would have been more engaging for my children.
I am curious how older children received the book. If you are, too, or would like to just read other general reviews, please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.
Abraham's Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream can be purchased at Inspiring the American Dream for $14.95.