Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: I started reading Lincoln’s Grave Robbers (Scholastic 2013) on the plane ride home from ALA Midwinter the day that Sheinkin won a 2013 Newbery Honor and the 2013 YALSA Nonfiction Award and the 2013 Sibert Medal for Bomb. This one may not be quite as destined for award stickers at the end of the year, but it is another well-written page-turner nonfiction title with great teen appeal. At the heart of the work is a counterfeiter gang’s plot to steal Lincoln’s corpse from his Springfield, IL crypt and then to solicit ransom from the government for its return. And what do these guys want? $200,000, yes, but also the release from the Joliet Prison of Benjamin Boyd, the best engraver of counterfeit bills. It seems that since his arrest, their illegal business is suffering without Boyd’s excellent skill. Even the young bank clerks are complaining that there is no longer enough illegal tender crossing their counters for them to hone their skills at spotting counterfeit bills!
Woven with the attempted robbery and the capture of the fugitives are many other intriguing subjects: the history of counterfeiting, the formation of the Secret Service (Lincoln set it up to quell the counterfeiting and it was only after 3 presidential assassinations that Congress added protection of the president to their duties), and the popularity of grave robbing for medical and financial gain. The pages turn quickly with a small trim size, large font, numerous photos, and a gripping delivery of the information. I can’t wait to booktalk this to my middle school students.
One of my personal favorite parts of the book was the ongoing saga of poor John Carroll Power, the hardworking and conscientious caretaker of Lincoln’s mausoleum. The Lincoln Monument Board ignored his pleas to strengthen security and to house Lincoln’s remains properly for decades. His dedication and persistent efforts to get someone to listen to him were inspiring, and those of us who have tried to get action on a pet cause can empathize with him wholeheartedly.
Lynn: Oh wow – how could you NOT love this book? Grave robbers, scofflaws, shovers, boodle carriers, nefarious schemes, Pinkerton agents, ropers and the secret service – all nestled between the covers of this one terrific book! I think kids will eat this up. The breezy slangy style invites readers in and then the crazy story just carries them away. And friends, this is one CRAZY story! If this were fiction, we reviewers would be talking about an improbable plot that no one could believe.
We read the book initially in galley and so it was really nice to see the illustrations in the finished copy and they fit wonderfully into the whole amazingly cool aspect of this book. There are photographs and drawings of the cast of characters, blueprints and photographs of the Lincoln Monument, Lincoln’s casket in the monument and an amazing picture of the vault entrance. Sheinkin also includes a very useful Glossary of Phrases and a breakdown of the Cast of Characters. Source Notes are now available too in the finished copy and I am hoping to spend some time with this enticing list.
Common Core Connections:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.3 Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
The plot to rob Lincoln’s grave is full of twists and setbacks. As the book is read aloud to students have them keep notes on the plot of this historical crime, including notes on the real characters involved and how they react after each twist.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
Pull out sentences from the text that use the slang of the day (scofflaws, shovers, boodle carriers, etc.) and ask the students to write down what they think each word means from context. Next, using paper copies or a visual presenter, show the class the Glossary of Phrases and have them check their answers. Ask the students to discuss the use of the slang in the book and what the impact was on how they felt about the book. Brainstorm some current slang and ask the students to develop their own short glossary.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
Have students conduct short research into counterfeiting, the history of the Secret Service, or the plot to rob Lincoln’s grave (or an alternate topic related to the text that the student wants to explore further) and then write a short informational text that focuses on the elements in the standards listed above.