author of Crazy Beautiful
Mina Edelman believes that she and her family are the Lincolns reincarnated. Her main task for the next three months: to protect her father from assassination, her mother from insanity, and herself—Willie Lincoln incarnate—from death at age twelve. Apart from that, the summer of 1966 should be like any other. But Mina’s dad begins taking Mina along to hear speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago. And soon he brings the freedom movement to their own small town, with consequences for everyone. Gayle Brandeis has written a novel that is at turns laugh-out-loud funny and wise, acute, and compassionate. In My Life with the Lincolns, she gives us the unforgettable Mina Edelman, a precocious girl who faces, along with saving her family, the puzzling experience of growing up.
Mina studies Abraham Lincoln for a class report and finds that her family is uncannily similar! She just knows that her family is the Lincoln family reincarnated in the 1960s. She worries that everyone in her family will die just like Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and their children, so she goes around trying to make their lives as safe as possible. In the meantime, her dad becomes very involved in the Civil Rights movement and Mina learns that she is no better than a black person. She tries to convey this same message to her all-white neighborhood but learns it is more difficult than she expected. Just as Abraham Lincoln fought to end slavery and foster equality, Mina and her family face the same challenges 100 years later. Mina learns the important lesson of standing up for what you believe in and works towards making a more just society.
author of Crazy Beautiful
author of The Ever Breath and
The Prince of Fenway Park
I’ve always felt a connection to Abraham Lincoln. I grew up in the Land of Lincoln and went to Lincoln Elementary School from kindergarten through fifth grade, a large statue of Lincoln greeting me in the stairwell every day. My birthday, April 14, is the anniversary of the day Lincoln was shot (this has always made me a bit sad.) Also, just like Mina, I thought my dad was Abraham Lincoln reincarnated when I was young.
I decided to craft a story around a girl who not only thought that her dad was once Lincoln, but that her whole family had been the Lincoln family in a previous life. I set the novel in Chicago, where I grew up—all of my other novels so far are set in California and I wanted to give my hometown some love, too. I also wanted the story to deal with civil rights issues so it would have some resonance with Lincoln's time; I did a Google search on “Chicago” and “civil rights”, just to see what would pop up, and was surprised to learn about the Chicago Freedom Movement—I had never heard of it before and had never known that Martin Luther King, Jr. had moved to Chicago in 1966 to spearhead an open housing campaign. Even with all of my work as a peace activist, I knew nothing about this slice of my hometown's activist history. Writing this book really opened my eyes. Unfortunately we still have a long way to go to achieve truly open housing—as we saw after Hurricane Katrina and now with the current economic crisis, the housing situation in this country is still full of inequality. Thank goodness for people like Martin Luther King, Jr. (and Mina and her father, even if they’re a bit misguided at times!) who work hard for justice and change.
I love the time I spent with Mina; there is actually quite a bit of me in her--I put together a neighborhood newspaper when I was 10, similar to the Lincoln Log Mina publishes for the store, and also tended to be a bit of a hypochondriac. She’s definitely her own person, though. I’m glad she’s out in the world now!
About the LincolnsI read tons of books about Lincoln as research for this book; the one that had the most information about Willie and Tad was Lincoln’s Sons by Ruth Painter Randall. Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells (of Max and Ruby fame!) and Mr. Lincoln’s Boys by Staton Rabin came out after I wrote My Life with the Lincolns so I didn’t use them as research, but they are a fun way to spend more time with Willie and Tad, as well.
If you’re a true Lincoln buff and can take a trip to Springfield, Illinois, I highly recommend the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (in addition to the Lincoln home and law office and other historic sites, of course.) It’s too bad this museum didn’t exist when Mina was young—she would have loved it. It’s an amazing place. And if you find yourself in Redlands, CA, be sure to check out the Lincoln Memorial Shrine, the only Lincoln institution on the West Coast. I was about halfway through writing My Life with the Lincolns when I remembered this shrine was about 15 minutes away. It ended up being a great place for me to do research and connect with Lincoln and his family.
About the Chicago Freedom MovementThe website created for the 2006 Fulfilling the Dream conference, which marked the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Freedom Movement, is a treasure trove of information. You can find it at http://www.luc.edu/curl/cfm40/
Write a letter to a decision maker (whether that person is the president, your local Congress person, your principal, even your parent) about the injustice that troubles you and why you think things should change (if you have any ideas for how to make things change, be sure to include those!) You can also write letters to the editor to make the issue more public and inspire more people to get involved.
Join or organize groups (online or in person) working on the cause that’s important to you, be it the environment, peace, health care, etc.
Use your creativity! Write poems, create art, put on a play, start a newsletter like Mina, etc. to raise awareness about issues you are passionate about.
Find out what other young people are doing to change the world at sites such as WireTap Magazine, Global Inheritance, and DoSomething.org. You’ll surely come away with more ideas about creating change! Let me know what you’re doing to make the world a better place at firstname.lastname@example.org.