Monday, October 22, 2012

Electric Ben

Electric Ben is one of those books that jolts you out of what you think you know about historic figure, Benjamin Franklin.  The illustrations throughout keep the reader moving forward and hoping to learn more lesser known factoids about Franklin.  The information is presented in a logical, chronological order beginning with Ben's birth and ending with his death and the ideals he lived until his last days and that lived on beyond his time.

Some fun factoids that jumped out at me:

  • That the quote from Ben's sister, Jane, stating, "All was harmony" could have possibly been describing life with 14 siblings in the 1700's.  Quote and reference found on the page titled, "Ben's Beginnings."
  • The description of a "horn book" under the heading "School Days".  This has little to do with Franklin and more to do with the times during which he went to school.  I found it fascinating and illuminating nonetheless.  And I thought it was just the name of a children's book publisher.
  • That Ben became a vegetarian in the caption of the main illustration on the page titled, "Apprentice, Printer, Publisher, and Runaway."  "He became a vegetarian, saving money to buy his own books."  A man ahead of his time, in more ways than one.
  • Silence Dogood's (i.e. Benjamin Franklin's) stance on women's right to education.
  • That New York was smaller than Boston and Philadelphia and had (at the time) not one bookstore or newspaper.  How many Starbucks can you find on a city block these days in NYC?
  • That Ben arrived in Philadelphia with $1.  Now, you might be thinking that Ben must have certainly amassed a small fortune in patents alone, but later, it is stated that he never patented or made " from any of his inventions.  He felt it was his civic duty to share anything that improved the common good of the people."
  • He did however make his fortune from the publishing of "Poor Richard's Almanac" which is now available as a free ebook, having been scanned by the good people of Google.  I wonder what Ben would have thought of these ebooks...
  • Being that the Keith House is located in Graeme Park (literally) right down the road from my home, I found it fascinating that PA Governor William Keith agreed to advance Ben the money to purchase a printing press in London, but never delivered on the deal.
  • And his finest contribution (am I biased?) was certainly the Library Company of Philadelphia, America's first library.
  • Interesting that Ben said he would "speak ill of no man whatever" but goes on to write critical, sarcastic letters in regards to Keimer and wrote biting gossip under the name "Alice Addertongue".
  • Of the 13 virtues he wrote of Humility was one he never mastered.  Probably because he was...AWESOME!
  • "Franklin was a firm believer in the power of the people in the community working together for a common good."
    • He convinced people to elect to pay a small tax to clean streets and light the lamps and to ask the assembly to pave streets.
  • He was the founder of the:
    • First Library
    • First Hospital
    • Schools for Native Americans and African Americans
    • Police Force
    • Volunteer Fire Brigade, first full time firefighting force
    • Postmaster of Philadelphia and then North America (which also makes me wonder what he would have thought of email)
  • His inventions include:
    • Streetlights
    • Swim Fins
    • Franklin Stove
    • Scientific Method
    • Lightning Rod
    • Odomoeter
    • Library Chair with Ladder
    • Chair with a Writing Arm
    • Four sided streetlamp
    • Armonica
    • Bifocals
    • Long arm pole to reach objects on a high shelf

So, now you know I love Ben Franklin.  What about the book, right?  Well, I love the book too.  These CYBILS are going to be tough to decide!  Robert Byrd (who happens to be local to Philadelphia) does a great job highlighting information about Ben Franklin and including apt, but bright illustrations.  He describes his process and documents his sources well.  Check it out!

Electric Ben
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3749-5
Published 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review it.
I plan to add this book to our school library collection.


  1. To be honest, most of what I know about Ben Franklin comes from The Value of Saving, which talks about his contributions to the library. I loved those value books. But the facts you presented are fascinating. I want to learn more!

    Good luck deciding! I'm on the Round 2 NFPB panel so we are excited to see what happens!

  2. And good luck in your decision making - there were so many awesome nominees this year!!