Saturday, March 18, 2017

Historical Fiction Annotation

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

Book Annotation - Historical Fiction
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Title: Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 01/15/2013
Number of Pages: 356 pgs.
Geographical Setting: Washington City, District of Columbia
Time Period: November 1860 - 1901
Plot Summary: This is the story of the friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckly, her mantua. Elizabeth is a former slave who purchased her freedom and established a seamstress’ shop in Washington, D. C. The novel takes place from the time Lincoln assumed the presidency until Elizabeth’s death. During this time, Elizabeth designed and sewed most of Mary’s dresses as well as arrange her hair, tame Mr. Lincoln’s locks and beard, care for their children, and became Mary’s confident and a source of solace and kindness.
A New York Times article: A Strong Thread in a Strong Union discussing the book and the movie, Lincoln, by Steven Spielberg.
Subject Headings: Keckly, Elizabeth,; approximately 1818 - 1907; Fiction.
                                Lincoln, Mary Todd.: 1818 - 1882; Fiction.
                                Women dressmakers; Fiction.
                                Female friendship; Fiction.
                                First ladies: Fiction.
3 terms that best describe this book: Genre:Historical fiction
      Pace:Leisurely paced
      Tone:Strong sense of place
      Writing Style:Descriptive; Richly detailed
Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):
Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini
This novel takes a character from Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Catherine Chase Sprauge, and explores this period in history through her eyes. Although Catherine and Mrs. Lincoln had much in common, they remained in a fierce rivalry during Lincoln’s presidency and beyond.
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
This novel uses diary entries and letters to create a story based on real events. I think it would be interesting to read this story about the Civil War from a southern perspective.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
This novel, based on the historical figure Sarah Grimke, follows her 35 year relationship with Handful, a servant she was given for her eleventh birthday. The story begins in 19th century Charleston where Sarah was a controversial figure because she was an abolitionist and suffragist, yet came from a slave owning family. She even broke the law by teaching Handful to read and write.
3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:
Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, And Four Years in the                                                   White House by Elizabeth Keckly
In her own words,  Elizabeth Keckly, writes about her life as a slave and the years she spent with Mrs. Lincoln as her modiste. It would be interesting to compare this to Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly by Jennifer Fleischner.

Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly by Jennifer Fleischner
This book gives the non-fiction account of the friendship between Mary Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckly.  It is richly detailed and descriptive.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker:The Unlikely Friendship of
Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln by Lynda Jones
Although this book is classified as one for upper elementary students, I think it would be an excellent follow-up to the novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. The book contains illustrations, including daguerreotypes, photos, paintings, and illustrations of the Lincoln's, Mrs. Keckley, and her masters. The book’s elegant design emphasizes period fashion and the art of dressmaking.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

                                  The Emancipator’s Wife by Barbara Hambly
Storyline: Character-driven
Pace:Leisurely paced
Writing Style:Richly detailed
The novel looks at the later years of Mary Todd Lincoln’s life, after she was sent to an asylum by her son, Robert. Here, she writes her memoirs and reflects on her life. It is richly detailed and character-driven, as well as being leisurely paced.
March by Geraldine Brooks
Character:Complex; Courageous; Flawed
Storyline: Character-driven
Writing Style:Lyrical; Richly detailed
This novel follows another family during the years of the Civil War. It is richly detailed and character-driven.

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
Writing Style:Engaging; Lyrical; Richly detailed

This novel explores the life and relationships of another woman who is married to a famous gentleman, Charles Lindbergh. It is character-driven and is richly detailed.
References Used:

New York Times:



Baker and Taylor:


Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Westerns power point:

The Reader's' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction:
Saricks, Joyce G. The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. Chicago: American Library Association, 2009. Print.


  1. This book sounds really good! I've never read any Jennifer Chiaverini though I have heard of her. I didn't realize she wrote historical fiction as I have only seen her quilters books.

  2. I've never been that interested in the civil war era, but I have always found Mary Todd Lincoln fascinating because of her role as First Lady and the wife of Abraham Lincoln. She represented a kind of strength that I've always admired, and I also saw her novels in my local branch library. I believe Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker was one of them, and I will be sure to check it out the next time I stop into the library.

  3. Hello,

    Your selection of the three relevant non-fiction works and authors are excellent. It would be interesting to read your original selection and the other stories of:

    "Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker"
    "Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, And Four Years in the White House."
    "Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly."
    "Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker:The Unlikely Friendship of Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln."

    Then do a compare and contrast of similar ideas and subject. It would be be fascinating to see how the the different authors tackled the same subjects.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful suggestion. I think it would be interesting to use these titles for a mother/teen/ya daughter book club.

  4. I appreciate your reference list! Something helpful not only to learn more about the book but to learn more about your process of making the annotation, a helpful thing for this class!

  5. What a thorough annotation! I particularly enjoyed the way you made it feel historical-fiction specific by including the geographical setting and time period of the novel as well as the bibliographic information.

  6. I like how many recommendations you have, both fiction and nonfiction. I am always curious to know if a fan of an historical fiction series or novel will then seek out nonfiction about that subject or era. We don't often think about nonfiction having similar appeal factors at my library, but we do mark some nonfiction as "reads like a novel".

  7. Hi Darcy,
    I like the idea of marking some nonfiction as "reads like a novel." I bet that would really help patrons bridge the divide and give nonfiction a chance if we included them together in a display. I think I might give it a try.

  8. Interesting choice of book. I once read the book Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton several years ago, and I found it a fascinating read. Mrs. Lincoln was a complicated and ambitious woman thrown into darkness by the death of all she held dear. I cannot imagine all the pain and suffering she endured throughout her life. I noticed you recommended a historical fiction novel titled March by Geraldine Brooks. My choice of book this week was also by Geraldine Brooks and I think she is a great author. She has the ability to delve into the time period she is writing about which allows the reader to feel as they are living in that world. Your book recommendations are very appealing. I plan on placing them on my reading wish list.

  9. Hi Cynthia,

    Thanks for your supportive comments. I enjoyed your annotation too. After reading it I really want to read Brooks' People of the Book. It is based on a true event and is the stories of the artifiacts that a rare-book expert finds in the binding of a book she is restoring like an insect wing, a wine stain and a white hair.

  10. Hi Suzanne! This book looks very interesting. The nonfiction books you suggested sound like they would be great for exploring the real events behind the story. I like how you included the NYTimes article in your annotation. Great job!

    1. Sorry, this comment above is actually from me, I just realized I was signed in with my work account when I commented!

  11. You did a wonderful job on your annotations! I think your readlikes for this are stellar! Full points and job well done!