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John, Paul, George & Ben Hardcover – February 28, 2006
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 2-5–Describing each man in turn as either bold, noisy, honest, clever, or independent, and taking many liberties with the truth, Smith relates how the Founding Fathers of the title–and Jefferson, too–played a part in securing Americas freedom. Hancocks penchant for sprawling his name across the chalkboard as a child led to his boldly writing the biggest signature on the Declaration of Independence. Reveres loud voice selling underwear in his shop came in handy when he had to scream The Redcoats are coming! Washingtons honest admission to chopping down trees led to his serving as president in New York City where there were few forests. Well, you get the idea. The pen-and-ink cartoon illustrations, richly textured with various techniques, add to the fun. Page turns reveal droll surprises such as young bewigged George, axe in hand and already missing some teeth, surveying his felled orchard, or Franklins rejoinder when the townspeople express their vexation with his clever sayings. Early American typefaces, parchment grounds, and vestiges of 18th-century life, like chamber pots and hoop toys, evoke a sense of the time. A true-and-false section in the back separates fact from fiction. While children will love the off-the-wall humor, there is plenty for adult readers to enjoy, too–the clever fly leaf, puns (…that bell-ringing took a toll on young Paul), and more. Exercise your freedom to scoop up this one.–Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
K-Gr. 3. The title offers a clue that Smith is winking at adults, but as good a joke as it is, most children just won't get it. In the stories within, bold-schoolboy John (Hancock) writes his name so large on the blackboard that his exasperated teacher remarks, "We don't need to read it from space." Similarly, loudmouthed Paul (Revere) embarrasses a lady who comes into his shop to buy extralarge underwear; honest George (Washington) admits to chopping down an entire orchard; clever Ben (Franklin) annoys the neighbors with his platitudes; and independent Tom (Jefferson)^B presents a list of grievances to his teacher. The time comes, though, when their traits are valuable to the revolutionary cause. To reach full comic potential, Smith stretches the truth beyond the breaking point, then attempts to undo some of the misconceptions he has created in a true-false quiz, "Taking Liberties," on the closing pages. Deftly drawn, witty, and instantly appealing, the illustrations creatively blend period elements such as wood-grain and crackle-glaze texturing, woodcut lines, and formal compositions typical of the era, with gaping mouths and stylized, spiraling eyes typical of modern cartoons. The artwork and design are excellent and adults will chortle, but this book seems likely to confuse children unfamiliar with the period. Kids will need to know actual, factual American history to appreciate what's going on. Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
The Beatles need NOT be familiar to your young reader or audience. IN fact , despite the obvious titular reference, Liverpudlian references are not the M.O. here. Sure, there's a great parody of the "Abbey Road" cover, showing the foursome crossing a street. In addition, they have cultish, slightly outrageous, and often independent, irrepresible personalities, and Lane Smith quotes briefly from the Beatles "Revolution." THere's also a fifth "Beatle," Thomas Jefferson, quieter and more studious than the rest (perhaps even moreprecocious than the rest), but certainly a heavier hitter than Ringo's predecessor, Pete Best. So, your kid(s) are going to like this book, maybe love this book, whether or not they've ever heard of "Strawberry Fields."
Lane Smith is as inspired a writer as he is an illustrator. Other reviews mention the jokes--I'll just summarize: THey're hilarious! Smith takes some well-known factoid from their adult years (Ben's never-ending quips, Paul's LOUD, irreverent comments, etc.,) and shows these behaviors in their childhood years, often to the annoyance of peers, teachers, and other adults. THe old chestnut about George's honesty over that cherry tree is a good example of the liberties and outrageous fun of Smith's skewed biograhies:
George's father exclaims to his son,"you have paid me for it (the hacked cherry tree) a thousand-fold with your honesty." "Really!" said George. "In that case...when I tell you I've taken out the apple orchard, leveled the barn, and made kiddling of your carriage, you'll be a wealthy, wealthy man." TO balance out the silly stuff, Smith includes a few pages on the adult accomplisments of the five men, as well as a clvere section that separates fact from fiction about each of them. It's a brilliant concept; these are iconic American figures, each with their own mythology. I see no harm in continuing and extending those myths, especially when Smith incudes some factual material for those interested.
Kudos, as well, for the illustrations, too. They look period-authentic in composition and style. The pictures look like period pieces with their age, cracked backgrounds, and Smith also uses typeface of the era. THe veneer of authenticity and Smith's talent for mimickry produce some beautiful prictures, but they're still full of a humorous pictorial style that's keenly attuned to kids. This 2006 book is an early entry in my list of top kids' books I've reviewed in 2007.
(even the dedication is great... "with a little help from my friends..." so brilliant.)
well done, mr. smith. i love it love it love it.
John Hancock - you can read his signature from space!
Paul Revere - he had a loud voice (because of bad hearing)
George Washington - overly honest?
Ben Franklin - free with advice (Townsfolk suggestion, "Please shut your big yap").
Tom Jefferson - well, he was an independent lad!
The art is nifty, the organization wonderful. This is not as poetic as Dr. Seuss, but children should find it just as entertaining. Why? Because John, Paul, George & Ben (and Tom) were kids before they became historically important figures.
I also like the true and false section at the end. Here's an example:
"Besides inventing clever sayings, Ben also invented bifocals, the Franklin stove, the lightening rod, and Playstation..." True, except for Playstation!
This is a great book to give to your favorite child.