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Old Abe, Eagle Hero: The Civil War's Most Famous Mascot Hardcover – September 1, 2010
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The true story of an eagle that spent three years with a Union regiment fighting in the states bordering the southern Mississippi River and his activities after the war.
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Old Abe turned out to be very courageous in battle, and was an inspiration to his regiment, so much so that Southern soldiers tried to capture him. As he made his escape, Old Abe was injured, but survived the battle, flying away behind the Northern lines. The press loved the story, and soon Old Abe and his adventures were famous all over the country. Old Abe had a distinguished military career, participating in twenty-five major battles before being sent home to safety, where he was given a place of honor at the Wisconsin Capitol building. P.T. Barnum even tried to buy him, but Old Abe stayed put, visiting with the soldiers from his regiment who came to see him as well as the general public, as well as making an appearance at the Chicago World's fair.
The author, Patrick Young, is a descendent of the commander of Old Abe's regiment, and grew up hearing family stories about the eagle from his grandmother and mother. His book was originally published with different illustrations in 1965, but the text is not at all dated and offers a lively narrative, well-suited for reading aloud.
Artist Anne Lee makes her picture book debut with this title, and her atmospheric watercolor and ink paintings of Old Abe and his friends add a fresh touch to this story; I particularly like her images of the eagle soaring in the vast sky as he hovers over the battlefield, with an American flag below, on his way to safe haven after being injured. She uses a palette with many shades of yellow, browns, and oranges, which evoke the sepia-toned photographs of the Civil War era, highlighted by the blues and grays of the soldiers' uniforms.
This book would make an excellent read-aloud for elementary school teachers for units on the Civil War or for discussing our national bird, the bald eagle. It's also a heartwarming animal story that many parents would enjoy sharing with their children.
Mr. Young's text follows Old Abe throughout his life, as a young eaglet raised by Native Americans, his war time experiences, and his life after the war are all detailed in the book.
The Civil War can be a tough subject to introduce young readers. The concepts of war and death are scary to many adults, not to mention children, but Mr. Young's book, with illustrations by Anne Lee, treads very carefully around these issues. Written for readers between four to eight years old, the text does not go into the complicated issues of the war, but rather treats it as a mundane event, and is not at all scary for the readers of the younger set.
Anne Lee's water color and ink illustrations are simplistically rendered with a gentle nod to the sensitivities of her young readers. Battle scenes are shown, but from a distance, and therefore do not offer any graphic depictions of war, In one close up, Old Abe can be seen dragging an unconscious soldier to safety with bullets flying through the air and explosions all around, but even this illustration does not offer graphic or gruesome images of the realities of war.
"Old Abe, Eagle Hero" never once talks down to, at, or over the heads of its young audience, though the facts of war, its causes and consequences are largely glossed over. Through Old Abe, children can be gently introduced to the Civil War, and if they have questions about the war, I'm sure their parents and teachers can and will appropriately address those issues with the children