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Children's Bookshelf

GEORGE WASHINGTON, $8.95; 60 pp., illustrated; COLUMBUS, $8.95; 57 pp., illustrated; ABRAHAM LINCOLN, $8.95; 62 pp., illustrated; BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, $7.95; 48 pp., illustrated, by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire (Doubleday: paperback).

July 05, 1987|RICHARD PECK

No young generation knows less history and needs it more than the young of the 1980s. Returning to fill the void are four titles from the 1930s and 1950s, reissued as oversize (8 3/4" x 12") paperbacks. They are the grade-school level biographies by the once highly praised D'Aulaires.

The traditional problem with teaching history to the very young has been to whip up their enthusiasm without rubbing their noses in gore or entering upon awkward moments in the lives of the great. There's very little nose-rubbing in these blandly traditional treatments written in eras that are in some ways as remote as their subjects.

When the D'Aulaires' "George Washington" was first published in 1936, the father of our country could be seen returning from glory to "his fields, where the slaves were singing and working."

But then Washington as a subject has always posed problems. "Abraham Lincoln" (which won the 1939 Caldecott Medal) ends in deep dishonesty. He's last seen rocking on the White House porch. Evidently in 1939, with the world perched on the brink of genocide, the young are not to know of Lincoln's assassination.

Today's young are already baptized in the television blood of lesser causes. Books for them nowadays are more rigorously edited. What, for example, is one to make of the following: "Thus everyone would fare, who wanted too much, meant President Lincoln"?

As subjects, Columbus and Franklin fare a little better, though a few of Franklin's proverbs may leave young readers none the wiser: "Every Little Makes a Mickle."

Our young need history, but the job will take a kind of salesmanship that is lacking in these reprints.

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