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Monument Maker: Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial
Author: Linda Booth Sweeney
Illustrator: Shawn Fields
Published September 3rd, 2019 by Tilbury House Publishers

Summary: This is the story of how a farmboy became America’s foremost sculptor. After failing at academics, Dan was working the family farm when he idly carved a turnip into a frog and discovered what he was meant to do. Sweeney’s swift prose and Fields’s evocative illustrations capture the single-minded determination with which Dan taught himself to sculpt and launched his career with the famous Minuteman Statue in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts.

This is also the story of the Lincoln Memorial, French’s culminating masterpiece. Thanks to this lovingly created tribute to the towering leader of Dan’s youth, Abraham Lincoln lives on as the man of marble, his craggy face and careworn gaze reminding millions of seekers what America can be. Dan’s statue is no lifeless figure, but a powerful, vital touchstone of a nation’s ideals. Now Dan French has his tribute too, in this exquisite biography that brings history to life for young readers.

Praise: 

“The environment that nurtured Daniel Chester French is given loving treatment by Sweeney and Fields. . .  As Sweeney traces French’s way in the world, French goes on to create numerous statues of Civil War heroes, including the epic sculpture of Abraham Lincoln enshrined in his memorial. A timeline and author’s note fill in various gaps in the text, and Fields’ drawings are both powerful and graceful, just as French would have wanted, depicting a largely white cast but including some figures of color, including one of the two modern children who observe the story. . . Both bracing and winning, a fine tribute to the sculptor and his world. (Picture book biography. 8-12) ” – Kirkus Reviews

*Junior Library Guild Gold Standard

Note from the Creators:

When Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865, fifteen-year-old Dan French had no way to know that one day his tribute to the great president would transform a Washington, DC marsh into a national gathering place. He only knew that he liked making things with his hands.

As a boy, Dan plowed the straightest lines on his family’s farm, but as a teen, he failed (quite spectacularly) out of MIT.  And yet, almost 50 years after Lincoln’s assassination, Daniel Chester French drew on his memories of Lincoln and his artistic talent to create a lovingly sculpted touchstone for a nation’s ideals, reminding millions of seekers what America strives for and still can be.

This is the story of how one young boy became very, very good at what he loves, and for that talent to inspire people across a country and around the world.

We hope this book both delights and unites!

About the Author: Linda Booth Sweeney is an accomplished writer and an educator specializing in the exploration of living systems. www.lindaboothsweeney.com

About the Illustrator: Shawn Fields studied art at the School of Visual Arts, the Arts Student’s League, and the New York Academy of Art. His work has been exhibited at ArtBasel Miami, Forbes Gallery NYC, Arcadia NYC, and is collected worldwide.

Review: If you have ever been to the Lincoln Memorial, you know that a very talented artist sculpted the statue you find within. Monument Maker tells us how a young farm boy takes something he is good at and makes it not only his job but his passion. And I think that is what I loved the most–it showed that there is so much more to life than what others want you to be good at and what society expects you to do well at. We all have talents and passions, look at what Daniel Chester French did with his!

Sweeney and Fields did a fantastic job telling his story while also tying in the theme mentioned above, celebrating history, and setting goals for the future. Overall, a truly deep and well done middle grade picture book!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: With ties to art and history as well as social-emotional learning, Monument Maker can find its home in may different classrooms.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did Dan’s family do to help support him in his endeavors?
  • What are the different steps in creating a large monument like the Lincoln Memorial?
  • How did Daniel Chester French become one of the best in his field?
  • What is something you love that you want to do when you grow up? How can you become an expert?
  • Why was it important for Daniel to learn how to draw even though he wanted to be a sculptor?
  • What does Daniel Chester French failing out of some classes yet becoming a master sculpture tell you?
  • How does the author tie together Lincoln, French’s sculpture, other history, and the future?

Flagged Passages: 

“History shapes our lives. And what we do with our lives can shape history. That’s how it was with Daniel Chester French.”

“Soon afterward, Dan’s father returned from Boston carrying a cardboard box. In it was ten pounds of cold, wet clay for a family sculpting night.

One by one the family gave up, but not Dan. He kept at it until the shape of a dog’s head appeared in his hands. From then on, Dan worked on the farm during the day and sculpted birds and animals at night.”

Read This If You Love: Art, Abraham Lincoln, Architecture, Sculpture

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4 Responses to Monument Maker: Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial by Linda Booth Sweeney

  1. Linda Baie says:

    Cannot wait to read this book, Kellee. Some favorite memories of my D.C. visits is visiting this special memorial with my children and my students. I hope everyone who goes to D.C. does not miss it. I’m happy to read there’s a story in a picture book for chldren.

  2. Kellee,

    Thank you for you this very thoughtful review. We are delighted you enjoyed the book! As I do school visits, I would am going to use some of the wonderful questions you’ve outlined above.

    All the best,
    Linda

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