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Mr. Lincoln's Way Hardcover – August 27, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Everyone thinks Eugene "Mean Gene" Esterhause, the school bully, is trouble "with a capital T." Everyone but Mr. Lincoln, that is, "the coolest principal in the whole world," who is determined to reach the boy after he's caught calling an African-American first-grader a racist name. Mr. Lincoln enlists Eugene's help in attracting birds to the school's new atrium, a project the fourth grader embraces with enthusiasm. Nevertheless, he again makes racist remarks and lands in the principal's office ("My old man calls you real bad names, Mr. Lincoln. He's got an ugly name for just about everybody that's different from us," the boy says to the African-American principal). Mr. Lincoln points out a heavy-handed parallel the diversity of the birds that Eugene loves. Mr. Lincoln helps free the boy from intolerance, just as Eugene finds a way to free the baby ducklings and their parents from the atrium so they can reach the pond outside. Polacco's (Thank You, Mr. Falker) artwork is assured, from the carefully delineated birds to the expressive faces of her characters, but the intertwining themes result in a thumping message and a too-tidy solution. Ages 6-9.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Gr 1-4-In her many books, Polacco has dealt sensitively with a broad spectrum of circumstances and issues. Here she tackles both intolerance and bullying. Mr. Lincoln is the "coolest" principal: he is Santa at Christmas, lights the menorah at Chanukah, and wears a dashiki for Kwanza and a burnoose for Ramadan. The author chronicles his attempt to reclaim "Mean Gene," a child who sasses his teachers, picks on other children, and makes ethnic slurs. "`He's not a bad boy, really,' Mr. Lincoln said. `Only troubled.'" However, the distinction is not clarified. When the principal discovers that the boy is fond of birds, he capitalizes on this interest. He involves him in attracting the creatures to the school atrium while at the same time showing him that just as the differences in the birds render them beautiful, so do the differences in people. While the theme is an important and timely one, Polacco has allowed her message to overwhelm both plot and character development. The story emerges as didactic, laden with heavy-handed metaphor, and too simplistic a solution to a deep-rooted problem. The book may be useful to schools in need of a springboard for discussion of the topic and is graced with impressive watercolors, but it is not up to the author's usual literary standards.

Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 6 - 9 years
  • Grade Level: 1 - 4
  • Lexile Measure: 450L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Philomel Books; 1St Edition edition (August 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399237542
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399237546
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 0.3 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born Patricia Ann Barber in Lansing, Michigan, to parents of Russian and Ukrainian descent on one side and Irish on the other, Patricia Polacco grew up in both California and Michigan. Her school year was spent in Oakland, California, and summers in her beloved Michigan. She describes her family members as marvelous storytellers. "My fondest memories are of sitting around a stove or open fire, eating apples and popping corn while listening to the old ones tell glorious stories about their homeland and the past. We are tenacious traditionalists and sentimentalists.... With each retelling our stories gain a little more Umph!"Studying in the United States and Australia, Patricia Polacco has earned an M.F.A. and a Ph. D. in art history, specializing in Russian and Greek painting, and iconographic history. She is a museum consultant on the restoration of icons. As a participant in many citizen exchange programs for writers and illustrators, Patricia Polacco has traveled extensively in Russia as well as other former Soviet republics. She continues to support programs that encourage Russo-American friendships and understanding. She is also deeply involved in inner-city projects here in the U.S. that promote the peaceful resolution of conflict and encourage art and literacy programs.The mother of a grown son and a daughter, Patricia Polacco currently resides in Michigan, where she has a glorious old farm that was built during the time of Lincoln.

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Catherine S. Vodrey on May 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In Patricia Polacco's "Mr. Lincoln's Way," she shows the power of teachers and administrators to reach even the most unreachable kids. Typically for Polacco, she weaves magic with her illustrations and makes the story intriguing as well.

"Mean Gene" is the bully of the school, the one who has been taught to hate anyone different from himself. But Gene has also been taught, by his grandfather, to identify and love birds. He knows everything about birds, from the types of trees they like to nest in to the kind of food they need to eat. Mr. Lincoln latches onto this talent and nurtures it, asking Gene to be in charge of figuring out what should go into the school's atrium. As Gene eventually blossoms, so do the ducks who live in the atrium--and as he helps herd the ducklings towards the pond, so is he led by Mr. Lincoln towards greater understanding and tolerance.

This is a lovely book for just about any age. Younger kids can just enjoy the pictures, while older kids may want to discuss the idea of prejudice and consequences for actions. It's a treat to see a black principal with a whole culturally diverse student body, too. Highly recommended.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A 10-year old reader on October 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Have you ever been hurt by a bully? This book could help you understand why a kid in your class might be a bully. This book is also great for teachers and principals by showing them how to help kids who bully others. Mr. Lincoln is the kind of principal that all students would love to have--he's the coolest and he is very kind! He helps a bully in this story by being kind to him. He teaches this boy many things.
We are Mrs. Moore's fourth graders from Murphy Elementary School and the illustrations from this book are based on our school. We see the ducklings in our atrium every year. This book is so good that we think it deserves the Caldecott award.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lynne P. Caldwell on March 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ironically, it was my daughter who told me about this book. A lab student from the University read it to her 2nd grade class and Ingrid was immediately besotted. I am the one who usually recommends books to this first year teacher! When she began her year of teaching back in August, the first gift I gave her was my beloved THANK YOU, MR. FALKER, my favorite Polacco book. I wanted her to know how important a teacher is in the life of her students. I still think of Eleanor Mills, my sixth grade teacher many, many decades ago!
Anyway, MR. LINCOLN'S WAY is one of six Polacco books that I gave to my daughter for her birthday. It is the touching story of an African American Principal and how he cares so much for his students that he goes out of his way to reach 'the problem child.' "Mean Gene" (who is white) is the school bully; he terrorizes the children, especially those who are different because of their race or nationality. Mr. Lincoln discovers that Gene is passionate about birds and gives him a project--filling the school atrium with birds. Gene ends up having a complete personality change which is even noticed by his teachers. The key to this story is Principal Lincoln who takes the time to discover why Gene acts out--a cruel, racist father. As teachers, we sometimes have students who are 'unlovable' and we never take the time to think why: Did this child have breakfast? Is he even loved? Is he beaten at home? I think if we spent more time learning about our student's backgrounds, we could touch more lives.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. Allen Greenbaum HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Patricia Polacco often writes books promoting ethnic, religious, and intergenerational understanding, but I've never seen her deal with prejudice as directly as she does here. This is a psychologically adept book that is both entertaining and instructive. Most importantly, she shows that while hatred can be learned, it can also be overcome.

Eugene Esterhause ("Mean Gene") beats up other kids, misbehaves badly in class, and uses racial epithets. The principal, an African American named Mr. Lincoln, overhears Gene using the "N" word:

"'I'm going to tell Mr. Lincoln,' she announced.
`Go ahead, you little brat. I ain't afraid of that n___' Then he stopped. Mr. Lincoln was standing right there."

Polacco continues: "Now Eugene was in Mr. Lincoln's thoughts more than ever-he knew he had to find a way to reach him." Mr. Lincoln connects with Gene as the two build an aviary, building Gene's self-esteem and using Gene's love of different birds as a way to understand that diverse people are united as well. Later, when Eugene calls two students from Mexico "brown-skinned toads," he learns how Gene's father has "an ugly name for just about everybody who's different from us." Mr. Lincoln makes him promises to respect all the schoolchildren ("my little birds"), and learns that there's a grandfather in the picture who does not share Gene's father's prejudice.

Depending on the age and maturity of the reader, the story presents many good opportunities for sharing, discussion, and problem solving. There is little preaching here; instead, Gene learns the power of thinking for one's self, and how youngsters--like baby birds--are shaped by the environment. As in her superb "Thank you, Mr.
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