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Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards (Awards)) Hardcover – September 13, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-In the 1738 edition of Poor Richard's Almanac, Franklin printed this aphorism: "If you would not be forgotten/As soon as you are dead and rotten,/Either write things worth reading,/Or do things worth the writing." He succeeded admirably, as indicated by the ample catalog of Franklin biographies written for young readers from notables including Jean Fritz, James Cross Giblin, and Candace Fleming. Electric Ben represents a proficient but flawed addition to an already-crowded shelf. Using lucid phrasing and appealing detail, Byrd breaks the main narrative into two-page sections, each roughly related to an episode or subject. Unfortunately, excessive design elements and Byrd's fussy ink-and-watercolor illustrations threaten to overwhelm the informative text. Highlighted aphorisms and spot illustrations peppered throughout each page clutter the design and disrupt the flow of the author's readable account of Franklin's astonishingly fruitful life. The vibrant artwork shifts between intricately rendered tableaux and conceptual illustrations packed with symbols and biographical references, the latter, replete with celestial bodies and waves of energy. Finicky captions, which turn some of the electric-hued pictures into stealth diagrams, offer yet more facts and quotes. Byrd makes a few perplexing choices in his narrative, such as including only minimal mention of Franklin's wife, and identifying his illegitimate son, William, as adopted. In general, while the text may convey the wealth of Franklin's writing-worthy achievements, the visuals prove too frenetic even to capture the boundless energy and creativity of that consummate printer-author-scientist-inventor-statesman.-Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NYα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* Large in format and ambitious in scope, this appealingly designed book spotlights Benjamin Franklin and his times. Each double-page spread presents an aspect of Franklin’s life, moving chronologically from Ben’s Beginnings and School Days through The Scientific Amusements and The Natural Philosopher to The American in Paris and Liberty and Justice for All. The topical approach allows for tightly focused discussions exploring facets of this complex man. Introducing him as a scientist, writer, inventor, philosopher, publisher, and statesman, the text clearly communicates a sense of Franklin’s personality along with his varied experiences and accomplishments. As well researched as the text, and often given as much space on the page, the detailed ink-and-watercolor artwork creates a distinctive period look for the book and delivers plenty of historical information visually. Many pictures illustrate scenes literally (colonial firefighters attempt to save a house on fire), but others are more symbolic (Franklin standing atop the earth, surrounded by icons representing his scientific accomplishments). While several illustrations of varied sizes sometimes appear on the same spread, the overall effect is very pleasing. Best suited to advanced individual readers or one-on-one read-aloud sessions, this informative biography offers a vivid, striking portrayal. Grades 2-5. --Carolyn Phelan
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While Byrd treats his subject with respect, he does not shy away from providing readers with an unbiased view of Franklin, noting that he once owned slaves and that his early opinions of Native Americans were prejudiced. Not only are readers introduced to Franklin in this book, but they also learn a great deal through both the text and the illustrations about life during the time Franklin lived. An additional timeline in the back of the book helps clarify the years in which events took place, and Byrd also includes a bibliography and a list of visual sources for the drawings that enliven the book. Students who show interest in Colonial America and important figures in early USA history will want to dive into this energetic look at Franklin’s life. Declared an Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book (2013) and a Sibert Medal Honor Book (2013), Byrd’s Electric Ben is not a book that public children’s librarians or school library media specialists will want to miss out on.
I have a small collection of favorites and when I am feeling confused or uncertain, I turn to the cadence and simplicity of Children's Literature for comfort and refreshment.