Peggy Thomas questioned how she’d write a book about Abraham Lincoln and agriculture when she knew the president said he didn’t love farming. So, the children’s author dug into Lincoln’s agricultural legacy and came to realize his impact.
“His legislation changed the landscape, and I thought, ‘That’s the story,’” Thomas told FarmWeek.
Known for children’s books on the agricultural legacies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Thomas wrote “Lincoln Clears a Path, Abraham Lincoln's Agricultural Legacy.” Published by Calkins Creek, the book was released Jan. 19, ahead of the 16th president’s birthday.
Asked for her inspiration to write about Lincoln, Thomas answered with a laugh: “Kevin Daugherty (Illinois Farm Bureau education director) was pretty instrumental. He kept asking, ‘How about Lincoln?’” Thomas will participate in an Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) virtual visit Feb. 11. Click here for details.
Lincoln’s connection to agriculture wasn’t Thomas’ only concern. Tackling a subject, who has been studied and written about as much as Lincoln, brings its own challenges. “I wondered, ‘What could I bring new to the subject?’” she explained.
Thomas traced how Lincoln’s background and experiences led him to create the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sign the Morrill Act that created land-grant universities, the Homestead Act to populate western states and the Pacific Railway Act that authorized the transcontinental railroad.
To better understand Lincoln, Thomas visited places he went. Daugherty took her to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. The author pointed out many museum exhibits are geared toward children. “Going through the exhibits, it was quite striking when you walk into a room (depicting) where he was lying in state,” she said.
Thomas also visited the Old State Capitol where a stovepipe hat rests inside, and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office is nearby. About 7 miles outside Washington, D.C., Thomas toured Lincoln’s cabin where he signed four major pieces of legislation and began to draft the Emancipation Proclamation in the summer of 1862, “a miserable time,” she noted.
“It struck me, his composure when all this was going on,” Thomas said of her visit to the cabin. “With all this stuff going on around him, he had the forethought to focus on the future.”
Of her latest book, Thomas is most proud of imagining the sounds of clearing the wooded frontier and working those sound images into her story of Lincoln clearing many types of paths. Illustrator Stacy Innerst also worked sounds into his paintings. Thomas appreciated that Innerest darkened his illustrations during the dark days of the Civil War.
Thomas sensitively handled the matter of slavery for her young readers. “With children’s books (difficult subjects) must be dealt with sensitivity and thought as to how it appears,” she explained.
As for stories about other presidents’ agricultural achievements, Thomas said she’d thought about Jimmy Carter as a subject and made contacts in Georgia; however, that idea was shelved when COVID hit.
But she continues to write about agricultural scientists and just finished a chapter book manuscript for a middle school on Norman Bourlog, the father of the Green Revolution.