Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. With linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and a penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, ponders, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. She’s the award-winning author of Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President’s House, “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City Subway and An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution. Beth has more historical picture books on the way, including three more stories of revolution, wonder, and possibility in 2022.
Welcome, Beth. Your newest book gives readers a glimpse into the life of President Lincoln’s son, Tad. What can you tell us about this vibrant young man?
Education has come a long way since 1863. At that time there was no consideration of learning styles and disabilities, no adaptations or accommodations for struggling students. In Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President’s House, we get a glimpse of a boy that today would be called a “differently-abled learner.” Tad was a boy with endless energy powered by a generous heart. The problem was, most people only saw bad behavior and tried to shut him down. His father, however, cherished the sunshine Tad provided during challenging times.
As I researched for the book, I was fascinated to find that there was enough information in primary sources for experts to conclude that Tad most likely had a partial cleft palate, severe speech impediment, and language-based learning disabilities. On top of that, he might have been considered ADHD today. The historical evidence for learning disabilities is limited, and we’re not able to definitively determine Tad’s exact problems. However, there is no doubt that he rejected lessons from the tutor in the White House, could not read and write until age 13, and had a “restless wriggle” that wouldn’t quit.
There was a lot going on in Tad’s life that likely contributed to his schooling difficulties. His older brother Willie, who died in 1862, was an excellent student who mirrored his father in many ways with his love of learning, reading, and studying. In addition to his stellar brother, behavior expectations in the President’s House didn’t line up with Tad’s idea of “home,” resulting in constant disapproval. After Willie died, Tad’s grief and loneliness was compounded by losing the person who “translated” his garbled speech for others. So in addition to his learning and speech challenges, Tad had emotional issues to deal with. Today, educators know that understanding the affective filter is key to removing barriers so students can learn.
As I researched and wrote Tad’s story, I loved his confidence, creativity, generosity, and joy. People of the time reported that he had “wisdom beyond his years.” While he didn’t fit the mold of a perfect student, his ingenuity shined with his goat sled, his tricks with door locks, and ability to make rocking chairs from the dining table (yikes!) and barrel staves. He was able to “read people,” and when people lined up in the hallway to see his father, he chose those worthy of Papa’s attention and sent the greedy ones home. He took action to help the soldiers with resourceful ways of raising money for the Sanitary Commission (like the Red Cross today)—quite a savvy little businessman. With some guidance from his father, Tad proved more capable than most imagined and surprised people who had him pegged as a troublemaker.
A few years after leaving the President’s House, Tad learned to read, write, and speak clearly when his mother took him to Germany to study. Again, many factors probably played into that—including instruction, maturity, and the realization that he needed to take life more seriously.
Though Abraham Lincoln was burdened with his duties and a horrific war, he was the one who saw Tad’s goodness and potential—the one who nurtured it. This story opened up a whole new side of Lincoln for me AND introduced me to an irresistible, amazing boy! Tad kept his father company, brought him joy and laughter, and gave him reason to hope for the future. This child, who so many tried to shut down, kept the President going. Thank you, Tad, for giving us all a lesson in patience, capableness, and seeing goodness!