Reviews for Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker : The Unlikely Friendship of Elizabeth Keckley & Mary Todd Lincoln

Booklist Reviews 2009 January #1
Although it s difficult to find a fresh angle for a book in this year of Lincoln, Jones manages smartly with the story of Elizabeth Keckley, born into slavery, and her friendship with Mary Todd Lincoln. The book opens with the first meetings between Mary, the new first lady, in need of a seamstress, and Elizabeth, the experienced dressmaker. Things get off to a rough start, but Elizabeth has a talent not just for sewing, but for soothing Mary. In alternating chapters, Jones then introduces both women and contrasts their very different lives. Readers may be familiar with the ups and downs of Lincoln s life, but details of Keckley s story--the physical and sexual abuse she suffered, her efforts to buy herself out of slavery--will give them new insights into the life of a slave, in this case, one who was educated and had a profession. Because Keckley wrote an autobiography, Jones is able to draw on her own words, which are used effectively. The format, however, is rather dull, especially compared with the current crop of Lincoln books. A short bibliography and source notes are appended.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2009 Spring
Based largely on Elizabeth Keckley's autobiography, Jones's account of the former slave's friendship with Mary Todd Lincoln begins with the pair's introduction on Inauguration Day in 1861. Jones then backtracks, tracing each woman's life up to that point in time, in alternating chapters. The book's second half describes their friendship--and its dissolution. Primary-source quotes and black-and-white illustrations are well chosen. Bib., ind. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2008 November #2
Using period photographs and illustrations to expand the interest level, this account provides brief, strongly contrasting biographies of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley. Lincoln, often maligned, grew up in a family of wealth and privilege. She arrived at adulthood with few coping skills to deal with the tragedies she faced--the loss of three of her beloved children in their youth and the assassination of Abraham, her primary source of emotional support. Keckley needed strength from early childhood, growing up as a slave and oftentimes physically abused. A talented seamstress, she not only supported her owner's family at one point with profits from her sewing, eventually she purchased her freedom. In Washington, she became Lincoln's seamstress--and one of her few friends. Lincoln's life has been well documented; it was a stroke of genius to contrast it with the less well-known story of this talented former slave. Including many anecdotes that provide insight into the pair and featuring impeccable research, this volume is an excellent, fascinating addition to literature on the Civil War era. (author's note, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Reviews 2009 January

Gr 5-8--Opening with the initial meeting between the First Lady and the former slave who became her dressmaker, Jones then presents alternating chapters about the women's lives. Period quotes, and daguerreotypes, photos, paintings, and publications from the era appear throughout. Similar both in subject and title to Becky Rutberg's Mary Lincoln's Dressmaker (Walker, 1995), this book is sparer, but it references Rutberg's work, both as a source and with very similar language and quotes. The earlier title presents a broader story in a more engaging manner. This is a worthwhile subject for women's history, American history, and for providing insight into the Lincolns. However, Rutberg's book remains the better of the two.--Janet S. Thompson, Chicago Public Library

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