Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nonfiction Book Review: Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Chasing Lincoln's KillerChasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As some middle schools muddle along seeking good nonfiction to satisfy their common core requirements, I raise James L. Swanson's book for your consideration. The text will be accessible to your reluctant readers;as a matter of fact, a colleague of mine sent me a message saying that her 7th grade son really enjoyed the book, and from what I gather he'd much rather throw a ball or catch a frog than read.

The story is high-paced and high-intensity narrative non-fiction. Swanson offers a quick foundation for the race, and then he fires "the" gun and the reader is off and on the whirlwind manhunt for John Wilkes Booth.

Many opportunities exist for discussion and digging deeper...whether for writing or research. Swanson presents several people who assisted Booth along the way deeper into the South.  Amazing that some who never met him and only knew of him through his heinous crime, assisted Booth because of their roots and obligation to the Confederate states.

Nice opportunities for comparisons to today--one that jumps out is the openness of Lincoln's White House as opposed to the Secret Service world of current Presidents. Also, in a world devoid of telephone or any of the modern communications of today, Booth was trying to outrun word of mouth.  I think a teacher could get some great discussion going about how effective the manhunt was in comparison to popular investigations and manhunts today.

Swanson does a great job noting that at the same time that Booth was running for safety, so was Jefferson Davis.

I like the book for a literature circles situation, especially if your middle school curriculum includes studying the causes of the Civil War, or the Civil War itself. It is the perfect way to get your kids to read (and enjoy) nonfiction, and potentially continue turning to nonfiction for their education and entertainment.

At the very least, a really easy pick for your middle school classroom library.

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