Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom from A to Z, by Alan Schroeder (Holiday House, 2011)

Recommended for ages 7-12. 

While there is no shortage of books available on Ben Franklin and his amazing life, Alan Schroeder’s new picture book biography, written in an unusual almanac format uniquely suited to Franklin’s encyclopedic interests, is an attractive addition to books available for elementary school aged children. Written by Schroeder, author of other notable picture book biographies such as Minty:  A Story of Young Harriet Tubman,  and illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist and children’s book illustrator John O’Brien, this slim volume manages to pack a tremendous amount of information into the traditional 32-page picture book format.  

Each letter of the alphabet is represented by fitting entries related to Franklin and his life and work. For example, A is for Almanac (a brief three paragraph entry explains the popularity of almanacs in Colonial America and how Franklin was responsible for the most popular almanac of all, Poor Richard’s Almanac), Abiah (the name of Franklin’s mother), Apprentice (Franklin apprenticed in his brother’s printing shop), and Armonica (a musical instrument invented by Franklin).  Franklin’s witty sayings, many of which remain popular today, appear on small banners in the detailed ink and watercolor illustrations.  

While the format of this book does not present Franklin’s life and achievements in a traditional chronological order, the author and illustrator make abundant use of the almanac format to present a variety of fascinating details about the great man.  Under “H”, we discover that Franklin was a “hero” (he saved a man from drowning once) and that his mother subscribed to “hardening off” for all her offspring, meaning that the baby Ben was dunked in cold water three times a day (thought to keep infants robust and healthy!)  

I don’t envision this book so much as a classroom read-aloud; rather it’s a book I can imagine a child poring over, with or without an adult, engrossed in the many fine details of the illustrations, the pithy quotations, and the wide variety of experiences of Dr. Franklin.