Abe Lincoln Grows Up begins in 1776, in Rockingham County, Virginia, where Lincoln’s paternal grandparents live. In 1782 Lincoln’s grandfather moves his family to the Kentucky wilderness. This wonderful new land teems with fertile black earth and bluegrass, but settlers face great dangers as well, particularly from Native Americans who try to protect their land from the newcomers. Brutal encounters are common; in fact, some towns offer rewards for Native American scalps.

When the future president is born in Kentucky in 1809, the frontier is still full of hardships. His family moves to Indiana, where they live in a pole shed, open on one side, for over a year while they accumulate the resources to build a cabin. Abe’s mother soon dies of a mysterious disease known as “milk sickness.” The settlers lack simple material goods, such as comfortable beds, and they also lack education. Abe and his sister hike nine miles to school and nine miles home. The long journey makes it impossible to attend regularly. All told, Abe receives only about four months of formal education.

With little entertainment to occupy sparse leisure time, the frontier can also be very monotonous. Recreational activities often involve some form of violence; for instance, the sports in which young Abe engages often involve scuffling, knocking off hats, and wrestling. Drinking, gambling, and fighting abound, but religion plays an important role in frontier life as well. Families attend long services in log cabin churches and pray together twice a day, sustained by their faith that they will enjoy a better afterlife.

Sandburg’s biography follows the tremendous hardships and simple joys of Lincoln’s childhood adventures in this challenging environment that produced one of America’s most famous presidents.

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