Sunday, July 3, 2011

Booktalk: Chasing Lincoln's Killer (Virginia Readers' Choice)

If you’re going to murder someone as famous as a U.S. president, you need to PLAN and plan well. You need to plan how you’re going to murder the person, how you’re going to get away successfully from the crime scene, and how you’re going to stay hidden or safe for the rest of your life. So basically, your planning involves three parts, right? If any of those parts go wrong, you’re in big trouble.

John Wilkes Booth hated President Abraham Lincoln. He hated him with a passion. John Wilkes Booth believed in slavery, was a racist, and wanted to see President Lincoln dead. Booth was a really good-looking, self-confident actor who was quite skilled at getting people to do what he wanted them to do. Along with some other like-minded Confederates, Booth set up a plan to kill Lincoln while Lincoln was watching a play with his wife and some friends. Unfortunately, Booth was successful. The day he shot President Lincoln was one of the saddest days in American history.

Booth’s getaway plan had a lot of holes, but it also had a lot of successes and plain old good luck, both in the immediate getaway and in the manhunt that followed. For example, when Booth made his way onto the stage right after he murdered Lincoln, the actor on stage was just too stunned to grab Booth, even though he physically could have. The guard who should have stopped him from crossing a bridge to leave Washington, D.C. on horseback after dark actually did let him cross … even though he wasn’t supposed to! And in the thrilling, crazy national manhunt which followed, John Wilkes Booth did crazy, desparate things. He really had not planned for an extended campout under the stars with a badly broken leg, for one thing. And he really hadn’t anticipated the extent to which people would see him as an evil assassin to be hunted down, and not a hero to be lauded. Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson. 194 p. Scholastic Press, 2009. Booktalk to middle school, high school. Virginia Readers’ Choice 2011-2012.

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