I was originally a little doubtful, as I always am about historical picture books, about this story. Illustrated with gentle water colors, it tells the story of a Civil War mascot - a bald eagle named Old Abe, from his capture by Chief Sky, to his home with a farmer, to being mascot for a company of Wisconsin soldiers and his legendary exploits in battle.
However, I was very pleased by how it turned out! It's perfect for a read-aloud - a reasonable amount of text and actually written to be understood and accessible for kindergarten through about 3rd grade, I'd say. There's humor and adventure and some sadness, but no graphic violence or concepts too big for smaller children to grasp. The watercolors are attractive and colorful with enough large detail to hold a bigger group's attention.
I did have a couple quibbles - the ending of the story is rather abrupt; the author apparently didn't want to mention Abe's death, instead finishing with the line "And he made two trips to Boston to help raise money to save the city's historic Old South Church." The story on the previous page about Abe recognizing old soldiers might have been a better ending. Also, there's absolutely no information on where the author got all the stories about Old Abe. The end note is information on the general history of bald eagles and the only background information is on the jacket flap, where it says the author is the great-grandson of the captain of the company where Old Abe served as mascot and grew up hearing the stories passed down. A quick search brings up a couple websites on Old Abe, but I would have liked to know whether the author used any original documents and other sources or if the whole story is just based on his family's stories he heard as a child.
Verdict: This is an unusual read-aloud with historical information, a fascinating animal story, and lots of humorous and interesting details. I'd recommend putting it in the picture books because of the lack of background information and sources, and especially recommend it to Wisconsin libraries.
ISBN: 978-1935279235; Published September 2010 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates