I just read Steve Sheinkin’s new book, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, out this month from Scholastic. Again, Sheinkin creates a piece of terrific narrative nonfiction that just zooms along. He tells a fascinating, little-known story, and fills it with quotations from the participants (more on this in a bit).
I think this book skews a little younger than Bomb and The Notorious Benedict Arnold. For one thing, the incident he details is just that: an incident. It’s about a foiled attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln’s remains and hold them for ransom. Both Bomb and Benedict had much larger stories and needed more context. I wonder if the fact that this topic is somehow slighter or less important than his previous topics will affect whether it is considered as award material as the year goes on. What do you think?
This one I think will be popular with the upper elementary kids, especially boys (I mean, grave robbing? Awesome!) I found the whole thing great fun. I remember going to Springfield several times as a kid. I vaguely remember seeing Lincoln’s tomb. But I definitely don’t remember ever hearing this story. Of course, I don’t suppose they would have been overly eager to share it.
Sheinkin’s writing style is highly readable, as always. I particularly liked the way he incorporated slang from the time, and then included a glossary of the slang at the end of the book.
Given all the discussion on various blogs about Sheinkin’s particular style of narrative, journalistic non-fiction, and the questions about his source notes on Bomb (which were resolved to my satisfaction), I find it interesting that this book doesn’t attempt to source specific quotations at all. He tells us that much of the book comes from two primary sources: the daily reports of Secret Service Agent Patrick Tyrell, and a book by the Lincoln Monument’s custodian, John Carroll Powell. His bibliography cites “all the sources I used” and includes numerous newspaper articles of the time, which, he says, contained interviews with other eyewitnesses. I feel confident that, with a little digging, I could find the source of any direct quotation in the book. Many are quite obvious, as when he cites Tyrell’s memos to his boss in Washington.
Bomb just came out in September and this book came out in January, so it was written and possibly even printed before all of the source-note discussion about Bomb really got underway. Therefore, what we librarians were discussing clearly had nothing to do with the decisions Sheinkin made about attributing quotations. Still, I find it fascinating that we are having this discussion. It really shows how practices change over time. We’ve come a long way from made-up conversations and a complete lack of source notes, but we also seem to have moved past inserting footnotes and endnotes to a more open-ended way of indicating sources.
It makes sense in terms of telling the story. And, as you pointed out, Sheinkin’s style is to “give his readers a good show” and he is using a standard journalistic style, one that we adults are very familiar and comfortable with.
I bring this up mainly because I’m curious about how big an issue you think that is for this book, and because I wonder how it will affect the book in the coming year’s “best-of” discussions. Bomb didn’t make Booklist‘s 2012 top choices list, and I wonder if it had anything to do with this issue.
So what do you think of Lincoln’s Grave Robbers?