“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chasing Lincoln's Killer • Non-fiction

Chasing Lincoln's Killer: The Search for John Wilkes Booth
February 2009 • Scholastic • YA fiction • Ages 12 and up
From the New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt comes a fast-paced nonfiction thriller about the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth.
Story: Based on rare archival material, obscure trial manuscripts, and interviews with relatives of the conspirators and the manhunters, Chasing Lincoln's Killer presents the wild twelve-day chase to find the killer of the 16th President of the United States. "This story is true. All the characters are real and were alive during the great manhunt of April 1865. Their words are authentic....What happened in Washington, DC, in the spring of 1865, and in the swamps and rivers, forests, and field of Maryland and Virginia... is far too incredible to have been made up." -- author James L. Swanson.
Story behind the story: "Born on February 12, Abraham Lincoln's birthday, my fascination with our 16th president began when I was a young boy. On my tenth birthday, my grandmother gave me an unusual present: an engraving of the Deringer pistol John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, framed by a newspaper article published on the day after the assassination. The newspaper article described some aspects of the assassination, but was cut off before the end of the story. I knew I had to find the rest of the story. This book is my way of doing that."

The publisher, Scholastic, provides terrific materials to supplement class discussions and/or those interested in learning more: Q&A with the author, poster, and a map showing Booth's escape route. Plus, watch this video of the author speaking about chasing Lincoln's killer.
FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.


Mflick1 said...

I just got this book in the mail! It is one of those books that is so pleasing to the eye! A collegue and I both cannot wait to dive into it!

Deborah Sloan said...

To Mflick1: I know, ditto! When I got it I felt the same way. I was completely absorbed. Can't wait to hear what you think of it -- and if/how you used it with students/kids. Thanks.

dmuldawer said...

Chasing Lincoln's Killer is an engrossing account of the chase for John Wilkes Booth and one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read.

Swanson enters Booth's psyche and draws the reader in so smoothly that the reader feels sorry for Booth and supports his cause. It would be an excellent book for exploring point of view and also the idea that history is written by the winner.

Booth shows great courage in the face of danger and pain, great intelligence, and great conviction, traits that add humanity to a man who is often demonized.

While the author himself admits that Lincoln is the true hero, Chasing Lincoln's Killer is completely compelling and fleshes out a mythical figure.

With well-drawn characters, careful analysis, and meticulous historical research, this book is a must for any reader wanting to explore Lincoln's assassination and the history surrounding it.

I would recommend this book for upper middle school and high school students.

Picnic Basket Rating: 5

Mary Edith Butler said...

As a former history teacher, I paid close attention to the authentic details given in this story. The details the author used were fresh and made the reader really "see" the scene. The illustrations were eye-catching, and several were also new to me. I felt the character of John Wilkes Booth was well-portrayed. I also liked the way the author brought facts into the story about those who helped Booth along the way. Their stories are often overlooked. In fact, most of the story in this book is usually overlooked by history texts and history classes--few know of the attempt on Seward's life, for example. Swanson's use of "conversation" from diaries, letters, and other accounts really adds to the story and makes this non-fiction story an easier read for students.
Swanson has done an admirable job giving a full story of the Lincoln assassination. I rate it a four and would recommend it for upper middle school and freshman ages.

Sandra Stiles said...

I started this book at school and finished it at home. I definately give this book a 5. All I can say is wow! The research that went into this book was tremendous. At times I felt sorry for Booth and could understand why he felt the way he did. I had students picking it up off of my desk asking if I was done with it and have five people signed up to read it. That was just my first reading class. I think I will have to keep an eye on this one, it could very well grow legs and walk off permanently.

Carrie said...

This book was fantastic. It was easy to read and understand. I have already shared it as a book talk with my 5th graders. They can't wait to read it!

ahslibrarian said...

“Chasing Lincoln’s Killer” deserves a place on most bookshelves that teens may visit. One of the reasons for inclusion is that it is an informative, yet intriguing look at John Wilkes Booth. Without aggrandizing the act Booth committed, the book does document the premeditation, the network of conspirators, and the subsequent flight and pursuit.

Another compelling reason for inclusion is the hard work and intentional language that is revealed between the covers. James Swanson set out to make a volume that was accessible to young readers. Not only did he succeed, but he has also created a work with great illustrative value. He has clearly demonstrated how reports and summaries of events can be gathered and then skillfully woven into successful paragraphs. Students will not be necessarily aware of this feature, but it becomes apparent as one maneuvers through the work. Swanson checks his facts and guards then closely when presenting information that may not be well supported. Many of the stories offered by participants in their latter years are scrutinized and then presented objectively for the reader’s decision.

Illustrations in this work include some print in the captions that is hard to read. Some images are too small to be useful. Most of the images are appropriate in both form and content communicating culturally relevant items about the nation’s love of a president.

Students may need to be encouraged to read this old-time-real-life thriller. While some students may self-select this book, most will not. And this book is not just for boys. Girls will also find plenty of opportunities and characters to follow.

Teachers may want to take advantage of the text as supplemental material to describe the state of the nation immediately after the Civil War. Whatever the usage, this book provides reliable information presented in a visually appealing format.

4 out of 5

John Parker
Media Coordinator
Andrews High School
50 HS Drive
Andrews, NC 28901


Anonymous said...

Chasing Lincoln's Killer
by James L. Swanson

This arrived and I knew it was going to be a great book. I could not put it down.

The historical value of this book resonates with my colleagues and their students. It connects on many levels to our planned instruction and social studies standards. The timeliness of this book really had me sold and the connection with the author made it all complete. (I had to steal it back from my daughters and husband.)

I give this book a picnic basket rating of a "high FIVE."

Caren Pence
Instructional Teacher Coach
Warren County School District
Warren, PA

Stacy Buchmoyer said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. It gave me a deeper insight into the events leading up to and after Lincoln's death. The photographs captured my attention and I shared them with my Kindergarten students who were spellbound when I shared some information with them. I would highly recommend this book!

Susan Appleton said...

I absolutely LOVED this book! What a fresh look from Booth's point of view! I started reading it the night before and then was reading it while my students were taking a test! Of course I had several of them asking to read it when I finish! I liked all of the factual information but told from the different point of view. Great book and I definitely give it a "5"!

Jacqueline Simmons, M.Ed said...

Greerings Everyone,

I LOVE THIS BOOK! Chasing Lincoln's Killer is interesting and captured my attention. The cover is great as well as the text. Reading the book reminds me of watching a suspenseful movie on a Friday night. Young Adults will love this book!
Previous books I have read about John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators, does not hold a candle to this book. The book is fully detailed and goes in depth regarding the background of all of the conspirators.
James Swanson is an amazing author and he captures the reader from the beginning to the end of the book.
I highly recommend this book to all middle and high school educators!

I rate this book five stars *****

Amy said...

I just received this book and I could not wait to read it! Even though the story is designed to be used with young adult children, I think the thrill of it is perfect for adults as well. The fluidity of the writing along with the accuracy of the content. As a former history major and a current teacher of history and english, I was pleased overall with not only the quality of the writing, but the attention to detail. I highly recommend this. And, in honor of Lincoln's 200 birthday this month (it just passed) I am going to start reading chapters each day to my students!

The Black Family said...

Chasing Lincoln's Killer was an interesting account of the day of Lincoln's assassination and the weeks that followed. I loved the word-for-word quotations as they really helped shape my idea of who the people in the book were. I was captivated by the way the events unfolded and little-known facts were presented. The shooting and attempts to save Lincoln's life are very detailed and graphic, however, so I would not recommend this book for anyone younger than 6th grade, and a mature 6th grader at that. There are photos showing the hanging of the conspirators, etc. as well. I would still give this book a 5 out of 5, keeping in mind that it is a book for more mature students and young adults.

Lindsey B.
Title I teacher, Utah

Liz said...

Chasing Lincoln's Killer is a 5!
There were facts in this book that I didn't even remember hearing about previously.

I found it quite intriguing that the author had such an interest in the history behind the assination of Lincoln since he was 10 years old. I love it when kids have a passion to learn about something.

The book is well written, informative, takes Booth's point of view...so the uniqueness of the presentation of facts makes it difficult to put the book down. You feel as though you are witnessing what is happening first hand.

The supporting illustrations throughout the book is definitely a plus.

Very well done and I think kids in middle and high school will find reading about such an historical event as compelling as it gets. The facts can also be translated to a younger set to a different degree as well.

Kim said...

I read this book outloud to my 5th grade son. He says that he liked it a lot and would give it 5 stars. The author is a powerful writer, who paints a picture with his words, and because of that the graphic details of the assassinations can be disturbing to highly visual kids. I ended up needing to skip at least 6 paragraphs for my son's sake, because he did find a couple of sentences I had read very upsetting - it was a couple of days before he could get the images out of his head. I do think this is an excellent book for older kids and adults. I learned so much from the quotes and details I had never heard of before!

Martine Battista said...

I wanted to love this book. I really did. My first red flag was at the very beginning on the pages before the prologue. "The conflict had begun long before over the right to own slaves and states' rights to secede." Ah, if only it were that simple. Although I was engrossed in the story I couldn't help wonder where the author was getting his direct quotes. Every time someone said something I was distracted because there were no citations for the statements. In our middle school we are always impressing upon our students the importance of citations. If the author noted his sources I would give this book a much higher rating. As it stands I give it a 3.
Denair Middle School Library
Denair CA

Linda Biondi said...

It is so hard to find good/excellent historical literature. This book is absolutely amazing. It is written in such a way that you feel as if you are back into the 1800s without being preachy or fact-ridden. The facts are there; the excitement is there; the historical facts and documents are there; and definitely the human interest is there. I can’t wait to put it out and just see what happens with my students.

I am a fourth grade teacher, and can see many possibilities in fourth grade and up. I like how the author weaves in Mary Lincoln's "madness" and the death of their child in such a way and gives the facts without being overly dramatic.

Beverley Buller said...

Paring down the popular 2006 adult book MANHUNT enables author James Swanson and publisher Scholastic to come up with an exciting and historically accurate book on the Lincoln assassination and related events. The minute-by-minute chronological narration following the major players (Lincoln, Booth and his associates, and the manhunters) is still there, but it's been pared down for the younger reader. Sometimes, this becomes a bit headspinning, as when the reader has to make the switch to following a different character on the same page. There are a few minor editing problems arising from the culling of this story from the much larger original--but nothing kids will notice.
Best of all, the book is handsomely done with a double-spaced sepia-tone text and the addition of numerous archival documents to enhance the reader's understanding.
Teachers read passages from this book aloud to show sequencing as well as an example of blending research into an original piece of writing. Kids should certainly understand what a primary source is after reading this book.
My middle school readers are anxiously awaiting the two copies I've ordered for our library, and I'm looking forward to steering them to some of the quality related non-fiction in our collection when they finish reading it. If MANHUNT makes the big screen (or small-screen) some day, so much the better!

Tegan Sexton said...

Rating - 5
I received this book before Mardi Gras break and I quickly devoured it! The book reads like a work of fiction which is a definite plus to students who struggle with non-fiction comprehension. We have already completed our studies on this time period, but I am very tempted to re-visit it so I can include this book! I love all of the primary resources included!
Tegan Sexton
4th Grade Teacher
Magnolia Park Elementary
Ocean Springs, MS

Lemon the Duck said...

I couldn't put Chasing Lincoln's Killer down! I stayed up past midnight to finish this fast-pased thriller. I was so absorbed in the author's detailed account of the events I felt as if I was really there witnessing it all.
The author's ability to weave in factual information, to convey both sides of the situation, and to reveal the motives of the conspirators made for a truer picture of Lincoln's assasination than I've ever encountered before.
This book is accessible and is sure to keep the target audience engaged, while providing an accurate account of the historical event.
The pictures and layout of the story add to the book's appeal.The layout of the book gives a feel of the old time theatre. These rare pictures provide fresh insight to the time period and events, while connecting the reader to the the "cast of characters" envolved.
This book would appeal to both young and old. It is easy to follow and understand and uses language that teaches, informs, and appeals to it's target audience.
I would rate this book a 5 out of 5.

Anonymous said...

Chasing Lincoln's Killer is a very captivating book! Even though I knew how the story would end, I was not prepared to be taken in by this book to the point of wanting more, more, more from the author. I loved the fact that James L. Swanson included so many appropriate photos and posters that were published back in the 1800's. From the beginning of the book through the acknowledgments, I couldn't get enough. How appropriate that the author listened to students' suggestions to: "Keep in all the blood and gore, but not so much that our parents flip out." It has all the elements students look for in a murder/action-packed story. I expect this new addition will be experienced by parents, staff, and students alike.

A solid 4.5 on The Picnic Basket ranking!

Julia Pitau, Media & Intervention Technician
Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

Mflick1 said...

i was very intrigued about the chase for JW Booth. You always hear about how he was trapped in the barn, but I think this book makes it intriguing and gives a much more detailed account about what happened. It didn't become farfetched and I wanted to know more!

I think it was too young to teach in an upper high school setting, but I think it would be a great reference and god for the history buffs.

It is def. a good read and is good for those students who shy away from history stories in general.
Rating 4.5

loonyhiker said...

I really enjoyed this book and found it easy to read so I would rate it a 5. The illustrations and photos that supplement the content were helpful when reading the book. Many young adults find stories like this interesting and I think they would read it for content without even thinking they were improving their reading. It was also great to see the story unfold from the killer’s perspective and then actually seeing what went into catching the culprits. This would be a great book for a reluctant reader because it is so captivating. I also think this would be a great book for a special education class on the high school level.
Pat Hensley
Successful Teaching
Greenville, SC

MLCS said...

I honestly hate to say I have not read it yet. It came in Feb and a student saw me open it. He asked to read it, and thinking he would flip through it I said sure. Not only has he rallied a group of 3 boys to read it with him but he continues to tell others. They are fascinated by the planning, pictures (especially the hanging, they aren't sure they like it, but understand that was what was done. ) and the story behind it. They also talk about how they can't believe people (they always thought one person) could do such a thing. (& a 'girl') I hope to get it back, but as long as my students are in engaged in conversations about it & reading nonfiction; I can wait!
Great for a 4th grade picnic of boys 5

Title 1 teacher, South Jordan, UT said...

Although Samantha's second grade writing class encouraged you to keep all the blood and gore they did warn you that parents might flip out.
I did! To bloody for me to share with my elementary students.

Majestic Elementary Title 1 First-Sixth
South Jordan, UT

Zion Lutheran School Library. said...

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer
By James L. Swanson
Picnic Basket Rating: 5

James L. Swanson’s ‘Chasing Lincoln’s Killer’ reads just like a fast-paced detective novel. In fact, if one didn’t realize the content was true, it would be easy to think of this book as a suspense novel instead of history. An adaptation of his adult non-fiction book ‘Manhunt’, Swanson's version for younger readers will grab them and pull them in. Most are familiar with the bones of the story already – John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln and subsequent escape to the countryside. However, the details of the story are expanded here to include Booth’s accomplices, their capture and subsequent punishment. The complete story, day by day, is told in such a dramatic fashion that I found myself turning the pages in suspense, despite knowing the conclusion. ‘Chasing Lincoln’s Killer’ is fast-moving enough to interest history lovers as well as reluctant readers. Highly recommended for teen readers.

Karen Sutera
Zion Lutheran School
Marengo, IL

Jill G. said...

This is a great book for those who love history, and those who aren't so into it. The fast-paced action keep the reader involved and the pictures and maps help show perspective. This was a great non-fiction book that any student would enjoy. I rate this book a 4 and 5th grade and up would enjoy it.

Heather M. said...

I absolutely loved it! It pulled me in from the very beginning. I am now getting my hands on anything and everything about Lincoln and/or Booth. I would definitely give this book a 5! Although I loved it, it would be a bit too difficult for some of my fourth grade students to read independently. I may use it as a read aloud in my class instead. After listening to me ramble on, my husband is now trying to get his hands on it! Thanks for the amazing book!

cupcake said...

This book made me feel like a big fat idiot.

For one thing, how did I not know that the Secretary of State was injured in the assassination plot? I'm fairly certain I graduated from college without ever knowing that detail. Nor did I know that the general public could walk up to V.P. Johnson's hotel room, knock on the door, and say "hi." I didn't know that Booth was on the loose for that many days, that he hid out in the woods, or that he died in a burning barn. The host of things I didn't know is just embarrassing.

What I loved about this book were all the little details that made it spring alive. I loved putting it down after finishing it and feeling smarter. I loved the pictures. I loved reading about Lincoln's death.

This one has a happy home on the shelf in my classroom, and I hope my 10th and 11th graders push and shove their way to read it.

Anonymous said...

I am so pleased that I was selected to review this book. What an amazing piece of literature and it definitely ranks as one of the best non-fiction books I have read!

When I brought the book into my classroom, I had students drawn to it right away. They all wanted to read it. I told them I get first dibs. 20 minutes after I had finished it a student (5th grader) had already checked it out.

Definitely 5 stars!!!!

Debra J. Briley
Reading specialist/educator

wordwarrior said...

Chasing Lincoln's Killer is an interesting nonfiction account of the story about John Wilkes Booth and his role in the assassination of President Lincoln. The book is well written and engaging with enough facts to lure the most avid history reader. The book reads like a narative. It is appropriate for upper elementary - 5-6 grade as well as high schoolers. I would rate it a 4 and definately recommend it to anyone interested in the story and facts behind the Lincoln assassination.

Eileen Murray said...

This book is a great one for hooking today's kids....adventure, excitement and even history! It explains how the assassination was a well-thought out plan, which I probably learned at some point but didn't remember. This book sheds light on the escape and some aspects that didn't unfolded as planned. I liked the old time feeling that the reader is given via the buff colored pages and the sepia colored print. Don't pass up this outstanding non-fiction book!

kokomana said...

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer: The Search for John Wilkes Booth
By: James Swanson

Wow! This is one of the finest examples of narrative non-fiction I have read. Engrossing like a novel, with perfect detail and fresh perspectives. This is the kind of history book that makes learning effortless. I can put this into the hands of almost any picky boy and have him come back in a day asking for ‘more like that’. I would recommend this for fans of history and historical fiction, as well as suspense and crime novels.

Rating: 5

Monica Bildner
Assistant Librarian
St. Rita School
Dallas TX

kgb said...

John Wilkes Booth originally planned to kidnap Lincoln and hold him hostage. When that plan failed, he hatched his assassination plot. Swanson describes the events leading up to Lincoln's assassination. Amazingly there is photographic evidence that Booth and several of his co-conspirators were at Lincoln's inaguration. Reading like a thriller Swanson describes the 12 day manhunt for Lincoln's killer as it rambled through Maryland and Virginia.
The book contains many photographs and historical documents. I would recommend it to middle and high school students.
My only quibbles with the book are that some of the shifts in time and character description are confusing. Also I would have liked to see source notes, a bibliography and an index. The map of Booth's escape route is at the end of the book and I almost missed it. It would have been helpful to have it in the front of book or in the middle.
For these reasons I rate it 3 1/2.

jlarkin said...

I wasn't fast enough to get a copy of this...but one of my students read it and here's a copy of his review as posted on our blog...


Check out our blog - all teen lit. reviews done by middle school students!