Fact Friday features The Eye That Never Sleeps: how Detective Pinkerton saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss. Have you ever wondered where the term "private eye" came from? You will find out in this intriguing picture book biography. Allan Pinkerton was born in Scotland. He grew up quite poor but very observant. As a young man, he agitated for worker's rights and was wanted by the government, so he fled to the U.S. with his bride and established a business as a cooper (barrel maker). He continued to observe though. While gathering wood for his barrels on a island, he noted the remnants of a campfire and wondered who would be on the island and for what. Turns out, it was a band of counterfeiters. As the headline of the Chicago Daily Tribune said, the "Cooper Becomes a Copper." Pinkerton was hired as the Chicago Police Department's first detective.
After a year on the force, he founded his own agency and wrote his own manual for his trainees to study. By the 1850s his agency was well-known for solving murders and recovering stolen goods. Pinkerton was hired by the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad in 1860 to protect the railway from secessionists who were conspiring to blow up the tracks. During the investigation, Pinkerton heard rumors of a plot to assassinate President-Elect Abraham Lincoln. I will leave it to you to read about the thrilling details.
Helpful back matter includes a timeline, artist's note, author's note, source notes and a bibliography. The illustrations were digitally rendered to look like scratchboard. The palette is muted shades of purples, reds and orange. There's lots of spot art and speech bubbles adding visual appeal. The compelling narrative is somewhat dwarfed by the illustrations though, and is mostly relegated to the far left of each spread. This arrangement sort of lends itself to a sort of silent film effect. I found it a bit distracting and read through the text first, then backtracked and read the illustrations. (Click on the link to the page for the book on the Abrams website. There is a slide show of some of the spreads.)
This is definitely going in my Sixth Grade Picture Book Biography Unit! I had a short conversation with the author and her editor as she signed my book about back matter and what makes a good picture book biography. Remember, you are never too old for picture books. This one is terrific!