Keeping the celebration of Black History Month in mind, Patricia Polacco’s Mr. Lincoln’s Way is an incredible story that can be a wonderful gateway for students to the discussion of race and intolerance in the school setting.
In this moving story, Eugene, the school bully, is sent to the principal’s office for calling an African-American student a racist slur. There he finds himself face to face with Mr. Lincoln. Although Eugene’s father and Grampa have both instilled the idea that “everybody that’s different than [them]… has an ugly name”, Mr. Lincoln perseveres, determined to change Eugene’s mindset. As Mr. Lincoln spends more time trying to get to know Eugene, he encourages him to learn tolerance, finding tenderness in Eugene’s heart through his secret passion for birds.
Polacco uses descriptive text and beautiful watercolor illustrations to highlight the plotline, surrounding Eugene, the school bully, with dark, brooding colors that gradually lighten as his heart does. Mr. Lincoln’s bright, vibrant clothes reflect his passion and sincere love for the students. While other students do not play major roles in the story, Polacco paints a beautifully diverse school, wordlessly enriching the story.
While Mr. Lincoln’s Way was written fifteen years ago, Polacco’s words and message are timeless, noting that every child acts the way they do for a reason, and that no one, neither fellow students or faculty, should make assumptions about others based on their race or their surface behavior. It also highlights the power that teachers and faculty can have in reaching their students, even those that seem unreachable.
– Renee Chen