Book Review: The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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Cheryl Harness, an accomplished writer of history books for younger readers, has another winner with this enjoyable biography of the man whom many historians consider to be America's most famous person, Benjamin Franklin.

We first meet young Ben as the 10th child of his hard-working father. (It was common in those days to have many children, mainly because more than a few from each family died before reaching adult age.) Early on, young Ben shows his curiosity with everyday and spectacular things. One episode in the first couple pages illustrates what would become a recurring pattern for Franklin's life: He taught himself how to swim! He invented a set of wooden flippers and attached himself to a kite. No one had thought to do that before, but the fertile imagination of Ben's mind, combined with his abundant cleverness, gave him untold numbers of amazing inventions and accomplishments throughout his long life.

In a way, writing a biography of this multi-talented man is difficult, especially for younger readers, because of the sheer wealth of information that has to be covered. But Harness does an admirable job of including not only the requisite highlights but also some choice details. We see Ben become a printer's apprentice and then a printer and a writer and, certainly, an inventor. We also see him as a diplomat and an advocate for independence. We see him as a vibrant young man and a vibrant old man. We see him in all his many parts of his long life; and every time we see him, he is in the thick of things, no matter what those things are. We also are introduced to other details not often talked about, such as the fact that Franklin himself designed the "Join Or Die" cartoon that became so famous and the fact that Franklin was the genius behind early post offices and fire departments.

Even more impressive are the illustrations, done by the author herself. They are incredibly detailed. Faces and images seem to jump off the page. These are not boring old people who wore funny clothes and lived hundreds of years ago. These are people doing momentous things in a time of great change. These are people who did amazing things and gave their lives and their creativity to a cause that was greater than themselves. Ben Franklin was one of the foremost of these, and this book does an excellent job of conveying his life, his achievements, and his times.

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