The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Abe Lincoln’s Dream

Written and Illustrated by Lane Smith
Roaring Brook Press
ISBN 978-1-59643-608-4
Grades 2 and Up  
Book Review
Last week’s inaugural ceremonies provided many of us with pictures of the White House in the news, and the opportunity to ponder previous presidents.  What if those walls could talk? Would we find out what really happens in the Lincoln Bedroom? Lane Smith’s latest provides us with one fantastical possibility. The book begins with former White House resident Fala, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dog, who, like Nixon’s Yuki and Reagan’s Rex, refused to enter the Lincoln Bedroom. Why? One day, while on a tour with her class, Quincy, an African-American girl, gets separated from the group and winds up in the Lincoln Bedroom. There she meets the ghost of our 16thpresident, who “had a long face that made her feel sorry for him.” Through their banter and jokes, an important narrative gets constructed. Lincoln shares his recurring nightmare, that he is “on a ship sailing rapidly” to an unknown destination and his worry over the unfinished business of 1865, when “there was so much work to do,” and the “union was so fragile, so uncertain.” Using the motif of flying, Lincoln and Quincy sail over the capital and beyond, and she gives him a positive update on the nation, work finished and unfinished. The book concludes with Quincy’s dream of Lincoln sailing happily towards the sunrise, on a 19thcentury steamboat. Smith’s book is a busy one, but the many colors, lines, and textures work together to support the reader. For example, different fonts and colors are used to represent different perspectives: a reddish brown for Quincy, a deep maroon for Lincoln, black for the narration of actions, all in capital letters. Line and texture are used to create a sense of fluidity and motion throughout the book. At a time when Washington is often a model of dysfunction, this picture book offers much for teachers and students to ponder: the legacy of our present, the continued and unfinished work of a robust democracy, and the hope that each new generation of leaders and citizens can offer.
Teaching Ideas: Classroom Invitations
Grades 2 and Up
    • Duet. Read Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek aloud. Ask your students to explore the ways in which the author and the illustrator explain the work of the historian, and how difficult it can be to ever know “what really happened.” Next, read Abe Lincoln’s Dream. Use your students’ discussion of what might have happened in history and what could happen if the host of Abe Lincoln came to life as the lens for a deeper exploration of Abe Lincoln (see Further Explorations below for resources and our  Teaching with Text Sets entry to learn more about the Duet model).
    • Duet. Pair this book with Myra Kalman’s Looking at Lincoln. How does each author use a little girl as a way to reveal important facts or details about our 16th president? How do the moods of each book compare and contrast? What about the illustrations? What similarities and differences can you find? What questions do your students now have after reading both books? Use their questions as a entry-point into researching various aspects of Lincoln’s life. See our Teaching with Text Sets entry to learn more about the Duet Model.
    • A Twist on the Presidential “Report.” Instead of having your students write traditional reports on presidents in February, use Abe Lincoln’s Dream as a mentor text for their writing. Students will conduct research on a president of their choice, but then use this book as a mentor text for writing a short work of fantasy that utilizes important themes and details from the president’s term in office. In doing so, you ask your students to synthesize what was most important about that particular president’s time in office, and the unfinished work about which he might pose questions.
    • The Art of the Book Trailer. After students have read Abe Lincoln’s Dream, have them brainstorm the mood of the book, and what themes they can identify. Next, have them watch the book trailer. Within the @90 second trailer, what moods emerge? How does music help to shape the mood in different parts of the book trailer? How do the moving components of illustrations change how students see the book? Who is the audience for the book trailer? Kids? Grown-ups? Both? Use this experience to have students, in pairs, explore the relationship between another picture book and its book trailer. Have them determine who they the audience for picture book trailers may be more generally. If you have the time, incorporate this into writing workshop, and have students write and illustrate their own picture books and picture book trailers.
    • The Motif of Flying. Explore the use of flying in fictional picture books, particularly as a motif in African-American literature of past and present. What do the stories have in common? How do they differ? What stories can your students create that include the motif of flying in one way or another? Some books that you might want to start with are: The People Could Fly, Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky, Wings, and Tar Beach (see Further Explorations below).
    • Our White House. Use this book as an entryway into an exploration of the White House with your class. What are some of the unique features of the White House? How has it changed and adapted over time? In what ways did each First Family change the White House to fit their needs? One book that can serve many different roles in your exploration is Our White House, created by the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance.
  • Illustrator Study. Have your students explore Lane Smith’s body of work. How does the work he does with other authors compare to the work he writes and illustrates on his own? What themes emerge in his writing? How does his writing and illustrating of historical topics differ from other topics? How does he use humor in his illustrations? Is humor the dominant “mood” in his illustrations? If you have the time, use this author study as a lens for your writing workshop as well, and have students writing and illustrating in the style of Lane Smith. Students might work in small groups modeling their craft after particular types of books that you have identified in your author study, to support one another in their efforts to model their work after their mentor’s.
Further Explorations
Lane Smith
Lane Smith’s Official Website
Lane Smith’s Book Trailer for Abe Lincoln’s Dream
NPR Interview with Lane Smith on Abe Lincoln’s Dream
Abraham Lincoln
Abe Lincoln Page, The White House
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Abraham Lincoln, Library of Congress
The White House
Official White House Page
White House Historical Association
Our White House: The National Children’s Book & Literacy Alliance


Abraham Lincoln
Burliegh, R. (2009). Abe Lincoln comes home. Ill. by W. Minor. New York: Henry Holt.

Hopkinson, D. (2009). Abe Lincoln crosses a creek:A tall, think tale. Ill. by J. Hendrix. New York: Schwartz and Wade. 

Kalman, M. (2012). Looking at Lincoln. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books.Krull, K., Brewer, P. (2010). Lincoln tells a joke: How laughter saved the president (and the country). Ill. by S. Innerst. New York: Harcourt.

Rappaport, D. (2008). Abe’s honest words. Ill. K. Nelson. New York: Hyperion. 

Thomson, S. (2008). What Lincoln said. Ill. J. Ransome. New York: Harper Collins.
Motif of Flying
Hamilton, V. (2004). The people could fly. Ill. by D. and L. Dillon. New York: Knopf. Myers, C. (2000). Wings. New York: Scholastic. 

Ringgold, F. (1992). Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the sky. New York: Crown Publishing.

Ringgold, F. (1991). Tar beach. New York: Crown Publishing.
The White House
McCullough, D. et al. (2008). Our White House: Looking in, looking out. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick. 

Rhatigan, J. (2012). White House kids. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge Publishing.

Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.