CIRQUE, Vol. 12 No. 1 A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Page 152



Still her brow twisted in knots. …What could these dire images mean? There’s deep tragedy here, by every national or personal metric. But Baby Abe manages to offer plenty of plain old fun as well. Chandonnet’s Glossary holds many amusing items like its definition of Britches Beans: “Beans dried in the pod; each pod looks like a pant leg.” One section gives instructions for building a cabin from an empty halfpint milk carton, well-washed and dried, plus Graham crackers and pretzel rods (as logs, of course: the thicker the better) held together with peanut butter, and with roof shingles made of Wheat Thins or Triscuit crackers “slightly overlapping.” Another strength of the book is its striking visual form. The text’s accompanying illustrations, colored sketches by Katie Scarlett Faile, are flat-out gorgeous, adding a fairytale-like dimension to the book, a distinct and somehow feminine-feeling style, which at times contrasts slightly with Chandonnet’s often gritty historic End Notes. But Faile’s lovely sketches are mostly an asset, lending the text a delicate, sharp beauty nicely attuned to the imaginative, quietly courageous personality of Abe’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, who in many ways is this multilayered book’s actual protagonist, or heroine.

well as humility and profound humanity. All this perhaps links directly to Abe’s love of language, which was central to his being — as his famous speeches attest, as well as the fondly recorded jokes and witticisms. He deeply understood, and felt, the power of words. From childhood on, Lincoln loved books, reading by firelight as he grew taller, which is related in every biography — including this one, where even as a toddler he works to mark his own careful babyish A in the dirt of the cabin’s clearing with a stick. I think he’d be pleased, even enchanted, by the characters in Chandonnet’s “lullaby.” This generative and generous book invites readers of any age or nation to ponder a time when people were every bit as deeply divided as we are now on this globe, but with no such poisonous meme as the notion of “alternative facts” to hobble us. Baby Abe is an American history source book perfectly suited to our times. It’s also a paean to the importance of decency, dignity and truth for a nation and its leaders. Americans bestowed the fond nickname “Honest Abe” on their martyred president for good reason. Truth lovers prevailed then and may, with hard effort, do so again.

INTE RVIE W Alex J. Tunney

“It’s beautiful. It’s stupid. It’s not practical, but I loved it.”: An Interview with Matt Caprioli August 2021

Ann Chandonnet

Though Baby Abe is described on its cover as a storybook for children (and their teachers), I dare any book-loving adult to avoid falling in love with the thing. It has the feel of an instant classic, like the man Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln’s too-short but boldly triumphant life was marked by deep character and unerring compassion, as

Matt Caprioli’s writing has appeared Cirque Literary Journal, Opossum Literary Magazine, Newtown Literary, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood and Understory as well as the anthologies Best Gay Stories 2017 and Worn in New York (which led him to tell his story on Netflix’s adaptation, “Worn Stories”). He currently teaches writing at Lehman College in New York. His recently published memoir, One Headlight, begins with a mother and son braving a turbulent drive through

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