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MOWMT March 25: Finding Fresh Approaches with Eileen Meyer

Finding a Fresh Approach to a Popular Topic

BY: Eileen Meyer

When I first thought about writing a book featuring stories about Abraham Lincoln’s life, the idea was daunting. There were so many picture books written about our sixteenth president – how could mine be different? (I’ll answer this question more completely a bit later.) Anyone who writes nonfiction picture books faces this same challenge—finding an approach that’s fresh and unique.

It’s always helpful to take a step back and see how other authors have handled similar subject matter. Studying mentor texts can provide splendid examples, and possibly even spark a fresh perspective or idea for your own topic.  Let’s look at how a few authors wrote about Abraham Lincoln’s life—and how each used a completely different approach. 

Highlight Accomplishments Through a Unique Lens

Consider the picture book LINCOLN CLEARS A PATH, ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S AGRICULTURAL LEGACY by Peggy Thomas, illustrated by Stacy Innerst, which reviews Lincoln’s agricultural legacy. This book addresses some ways that Lincoln cleared a path during his lifetime, to make the road ahead easier for others. His leadership to improve farming opportunities, transportation, education, and equality for all is examined in this fascinating take on the positive changes Lincoln enacted while serving as President.

Use a Concept Book Structure

ABE LINCOLN: HIS WIT AND WISDOM FROM A – Z by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by John O’Brien. This alphabet book is a tribute to our sixteenth president’s wisdom and humor, as well as a treasure trove of facts about his life and accomplishments. For example, on the page for “B” we learn about Lincoln’s service in the Black Hawk War, his use of a board for scribbling, and that the bed he slept in at the White House was nine feet long! There’s also a bit of his trademark wisdom: “We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it.” What a fabulous structure for an interesting book about Lincoln!

Share a Slice of Life Story

The tale of a little girl’s piano performance one special night for a troubled President Lincoln is the subject of DANCING HANDS, HOW TERESA CARRENO PLAYED THE PIANO FOR PRESIDENT LINCOLN by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez. Already a talented musician at six, little Teresa Carreno began writing her own songs. Her family fled a revolution in Venezuela when she was a young girl and settled in New York City. Celebrated in her new country, she received an invitation to play the piano for President Lincoln at a time of great strife. This award-winning picture book shares this interesting and moving story. 

Select a Specific Theme

Lincoln loved to laugh, and his penchant for telling silly stories, collecting jokes and puns, and sharing them far and wide is the subject of LINCOLN TELLS A JOKE, HOW LAUGHTER SAVED THE PRESIDENT (AND THE COUNTRY) by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Stacy Innerst. This unusual biography of Abraham Lincoln tells the story of his life and presidency, and focuses on what made his humor so distinctive, and how it helped him through difficult times.

Now back to answer the question I posed in the opening paragraph. . . There were so many picture books written about our sixteenth president – how could mine possibly be different? I knew that I wanted to share stories about many of Lincoln’s “firsts” as well as the things he was “best” at accomplishing. I also thought about writing poems to tell each story. (I had explored the market, and no books had been written in verse.) Once I settled on those parameters, a poetry collection about “Lincoln superlatives” took wing.

Showcase Stories in a Fresh Way

My picture book, THE SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN, Poems About Our 16th President, is unique in that it celebrates superlatives, which most kids find fascinating. They enjoy learning about who is the tallest, the first, or best at accomplishing a particular milestone. Most young readers know the basic framework of Lincoln’s life, so I found a way to build on that in a fresh and interesting way. Each Lincoln story is told through poetry—readers learn why Lincoln was the “Most Distracted Farmer” when he was a young man, that he was known as the “Best Wrestler” in the county and had the “Most Surprising Friendship” with another famous figure. 

Five Lincoln picture books, five completely different approaches. 

These are just a few examples of how YOU can use mentor texts as you consider writing about a nonfiction topic. Should you frame your subject in broad brush strokes from a fresh angle, share a compelling slice of life story, zoom in on one aspect of your subject’s personality, try out a concept book framework, write a collection of poems, or something else? As I’ve shown here, there are many possibilities!  

Prize:  Signed copy of The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About Our 16th President

Bio: Eileen Rajala Meyer writes children’s picture books and poetry. Her most recent traditionally published picture book, The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About Our 16th President (Charlesbridge Publishing) was a Florida State Book Award Silver Medal Winner for Older Children’s Literature and an Illinois READS selection. Coming soon is a rhyming ode to a favorite local beach activity, Build a Sandcastle (Reycraft Books) a fun take on a non-fiction “how to” book. Eileen is a member of the Rhyme Doctors team and shares articles about different aspects of poetry and rhyme in a free monthly newsletter. (Sign up at After having lived in many different areas of the U.S., Eileen and her husband now live on a small island in North Florida. Stop by to learn more. 

Social Media Links:

X / Twitter: @Writer_Meyer and @RhymeDoctors

Instagram: @EileenMeyerBooks and @RhymeDoctors

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