Gayle Brandeis

Henry Holt and Co.

Hardcover 2010
ISBN 0805090134

Listening Library

Audio CD 2010
ISBN 030771036X

"Gayle Brandeis expertly marries a humorous manner to serious matter in MY LIFE WITH THE LINCOLNS, an original and timely Civil Rights Era novel about a young girl learning to take part in a cause greater than herself. It's a winner."
author of Crazy Beautiful

Mina Edelman believes that she and her family are the Lincolns reincarnated. Her main task for the next three months: to protect her father from assassination, her mother from insanity, and herself—Willie Lincoln incarnate—from death at age twelve. Apart from that, the summer of 1966 should be like any other. But Mina’s dad begins taking Mina along to hear speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago. And soon he brings the freedom movement to their own small town, with consequences for everyone. Gayle Brandeis has written a novel that is at turns laugh-out-loud funny and wise, acute, and compassionate. In My Life with the Lincolns, she gives us the unforgettable Mina Edelman, a precocious girl who faces, along with saving her family, the puzzling experience of growing up.

January's Book for Middle School

Mina studies Abraham Lincoln for a class report and finds that her family is uncannily similar! She just knows that her family is the Lincoln family reincarnated in the 1960s. She worries that everyone in her family will die just like Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and their children, so she goes around trying to make their lives as safe as possible. In the meantime, her dad becomes very involved in the Civil Rights movement and Mina learns that she is no better than a black person. She tries to convey this same message to her all-white neighborhood but learns it is more difficult than she expected. Just as Abraham Lincoln fought to end slavery and foster equality, Mina and her family face the same challenges 100 years later. Mina learns the important lesson of standing up for what you believe in and works towards making a more just society.
-Read On Wisconsin
This coming of age story is told through the voice of 12-year old Mina who is growing up in the challenging 1960s during the civil rights struggle and the conflict over the Vietnam War. Her father takes her to hear speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to participate in civil rights events. She is a precocious and highly intelligent Caucasian youngster who is fortunate to live history firsthand. Mina has a fantastic imagination, and she believes she is the reincarnation of one of Abraham Lincoln's sons. Some of Mina's thoughts are hilarious, while others are eye-opening. The story is also told through a newsletter written by Mina to promote her father's furniture store, "Honest Abe's," which also provides tidbits of historical information about Lincoln and his troubled wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. One subplot involves her father's affair with a black civil rights advocate. This is the author's first young adult novel, but she proves her ability to capture the ways a teenager might interpret events and assign meanings to them. The intricate storylines come together and create a wonderful read for adolescents and adults. Highly Recommended. Caroline Geck, Newark (New Jersey) Public Schools
Starred Review
It's the summer of 1966, and sixth-grader Mina has her work cut out for her. Her overactive imagination has convinced her that because her father's initials spell "ABE," the Edelmans are the Lincolns reincarnated. Now she must save her family from their fate. This means making sure that she doesn't die of bilious fever, that her dad doesn't get assassinated, and that her mother doesn't go crazy. Mina is unclear what bilious fever is, but frequently sprays herself with OFF!, just in case. Her father, inspired by the history of discrimination against his Jewish heritage, decides to take her, without her mother's knowledge, to civil-rights protests in nearby Chicago where they participate in an all-night vigil and get involved in real-estate testing to prove racism in rentals. Mina's parents grow apart, and her father forms a friendship with a fellow protester and African American, Carla. At the end, Mina is ready to let go of her notion of reincarnation and wrestles with issues of injustice and discrimination. Brandeis seamlessly intersperses serious topics with laugh-out-loud humor. Mina is a budding journalist, writing a newsletter full of Lincoln lore to promote her father's furniture store, Honest Abe's. Her voice is clear and unique; her view of life's confusions is endearing and funny. The setting is perfectly captured, from Johnny Carson on television to bouffant hairdos. While the book's humor may be the first attraction for young readers, this is also a solid addition to historical-fiction collections.—Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School Library, South Portland, ME
"Gayle Brandeis expertly marries a humorous manner to serious matter in MY LIFE WITH THE LINCOLNS, an original and timely Civil Rights Era novel about a young girl learning to take part in a cause greater than herself. It's a winner."
author of Crazy Beautiful
"Gayle Brandeis has written a richly complex novel in the voice of her brilliant, courageous, funny, young heroine Mina Edelman. Through her whip-smart perceptions, we watch one family struggle through the turbulent 60s -- the Vietnam War, feminism, and some of the most heated moments of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago. Just as Mina sees deep connections between the nation's struggles in the 60s to those of Lincoln's presidency, readers will naturally draw correlations to present-day America -- essential ones."
author of The Ever Breath and
The Prince of Fenway Park
“Brandeis has created an appealing, quirky protagonist, still childlike in her sensibilities and understanding. Convinced that she is going to die young, like her almost-namesake Willie Lincoln, she diagnoses the pain in her developing breasts as incipient heart failure. She worries that her mother will go crazy and her father will be assassinated. Middle-school readers will know better but enjoy this humorous first-person glimpse into her misconstrued world. Adults don’t see so clearly, either. In her first novel for young readers, the author goes beyond usual stories of the civil-rights movement, demonstrating well-intentioned but tone-deaf gestures of white supporters and the discomfort of change.”
“This strong showing should leave readers with a trove of Lincoln trivia and gratitude for the contributions of civil rights pioneers”.
"An informative, clear, personal and passionate novel."
"At once funny, sad, and inspiring, this is a book that's going places."

I’ve always felt a connection to Abraham Lincoln. I grew up in the Land of Lincoln and went to Lincoln Elementary School from kindergarten through fifth grade, a large statue of Lincoln greeting me in the stairwell every day. My birthday, April 14, is the anniversary of the day Lincoln was shot (this has always made me a bit sad.) Also, just like Mina, I thought my dad was Abraham Lincoln reincarnated when I was young.


I decided to craft a story around a girl who not only thought that her dad was once Lincoln, but that her whole family had been the Lincoln family in a previous life. I set the novel in Chicago, where I grew up—all of my other novels so far are set in California and I wanted to give my hometown some love, too. I also wanted the story to deal with civil rights issues so it would have some resonance with Lincoln's time; I did a Google search on “Chicago” and “civil rights”, just to see what would pop up, and was surprised to learn about the Chicago Freedom Movement—I had never heard of it before and had never known that Martin Luther King, Jr. had moved to Chicago in 1966 to spearhead an open housing campaign. Even with all of my work as a peace activist, I knew nothing about this slice of my hometown's activist history. Writing this book really opened my eyes. Unfortunately we still have a long way to go to achieve truly open housing—as we saw after Hurricane Katrina and now with the current economic crisis, the housing situation in this country is still full of inequality. Thank goodness for people like Martin Luther King, Jr. (and Mina and her father, even if they’re a bit misguided at times!) who work hard for justice and change.


I love the time I spent with Mina; there is actually quite a bit of me in her--I put together a neighborhood newspaper when I was 10, similar to the Lincoln Log Mina publishes for the store, and also tended to be a bit of a hypochondriac. She’s definitely her own person, though. I’m glad she’s out in the world now!


About the Lincolns

I read tons of books about Lincoln as research for this book; the one that had the most information about Willie and Tad was Lincoln’s Sons by Ruth Painter Randall. Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells (of Max and Ruby fame!) and Mr. Lincoln’s Boys by Staton Rabin came out after I wrote My Life with the Lincolns so I didn’t use them as research, but they are a fun way to spend more time with Willie and Tad, as well.

If you’re a true Lincoln buff and can take a trip to Springfield, Illinois, I highly recommend the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (in addition to the Lincoln home and law office and other historic sites, of course.) It’s too bad this museum didn’t exist when Mina was young—she would have loved it. It’s an amazing place. And if you find yourself in Redlands, CA, be sure to check out the Lincoln Memorial Shrine, the only Lincoln institution on the West Coast. I was about halfway through writing My Life with the Lincolns when I remembered this shrine was about 15 minutes away. It ended up being a great place for me to do research and connect with Lincoln and his family.

About the Chicago Freedom Movement

The website created for the 2006 Fulfilling the Dream conference, which marked the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Freedom Movement, is a treasure trove of information. You can find it at
If you’re inspired by Mina and her dad’s involvement in the Chicago Freedom Movement, there is so much you can do, yourself, to make the world a better place:

Write a letter to a decision maker (whether that person is the president, your local Congress person, your principal, even your parent) about the injustice that troubles you and why you think things should change (if you have any ideas for how to make things change, be sure to include those!) You can also write letters to the editor to make the issue more public and inspire more people to get involved.

Join or organize groups (online or in person) working on the cause that’s important to you, be it the environment, peace, health care, etc.

Use your creativity! Write poems, create art, put on a play, start a newsletter like Mina, etc. to raise awareness about issues you are passionate about.

Find out what other young people are doing to change the world at sites such as WireTap Magazine, Global Inheritance, and You’ll surely come away with more ideas about creating change! Let me know what you’re doing to make the world a better place at