Perfect for gift shops across Philadelphia. Less so for readers.



Explore the beginnings of America’s first circulating library with Ben and Billy Franklin.

In 1739, William “Billy” Franklin, son of printer (and future statesman) Benjamin Franklin, starts his studies in earnest with a tutor. Joining Billy’s (somewhat reluctant) academic endeavors is his cousin James. While James is bored with the tutor’s stories, Billy’s imagination goes wild picturing the tales from long ago. Seeing his son’s delight, Ben introduces Billy to the Leather Apron Club library, a library founded by 12 tradesmen like Ben who value education and learning. It’s through this story that readers are introduced to what eventually grew into the first library open to members of the public (provided those members could pay the subscription fee, as the backmatter points out). Billy narrates the meandering story, which may be of more interest to adults than the intended audience. “The men debate Politics and History and Books. / They drink Cider, eat Cake, and debate more— / Mathematics and Geography and Finance. / Though the discussion is above me, / I feel as if I am in Heaven,” he rhapsodizes. The static watercolor illustrations of the virtually all-White cast do little to entice readers. The backmatter does an admirable job summarizing Franklin’s fraught relationship with an adult Billy and addresses his complex relationship with slavery.

Perfect for gift shops across Philadelphia. Less so for readers. (bibliography) (Picture book. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-58089-719-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Rockliff and Bruno’s playful approach buoys solid science and history.



Ben Franklin’s several years in France during the American Revolution included an occasion on which he consulted on a scientific matter for the French king.

Louis XVI commissioned a study when he became concerned about the number of complaints he was hearing from French doctors about a German—Dr. Franz Mesmer—who seemed to wield a powerful, mysterious method of healing. Among the scientists and doctors asked to report was the American emissary Benjamin Franklin. In Rockliff’s account, Franklin observes Mesmer’s colleague, Charles D’Eslon, at work, then tinkers with Mesmer’s “animal magnetism” technique by blindfolding and misdirecting D’Eslon’s subjects. Franklin’s hypothesis—that results were accounted for by the subject’s imagination and not an external force—is quickly proved. Text displayed in ribbons, a couple of late-18th-century typefaces and other flourishes create a sense of time and place. The endpapers are brightly hypnotic. Bruno’s digitally colored pencil art lightly evokes period caricature and gently pokes fun at the ornate clothing and hair of French nobility. The tale is nicely pitched to emphasize the importance of a hypothesis, testing and verification, and several inset text boxes are used to explain these scientific tools. Rockliff points out that Franklin’s blind-test technique is in use today for medical treatments, and both the placebo effect and hypnosis are studied today.

Rockliff and Bruno’s playful approach buoys solid science and history. (author’s note, sources) (Nonfiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6351-3

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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Krensky spins a wisp of history into a diaphanous tale that's accompanied by arty illustrations that fail to add substance or even a sense of period. Thanks to the popularity of an actual series of reported sightings of “man-bats,” intelligent beavers and other strange life forms on the Moon that ran in the tabloid New York Sun in 1833, fictional newsboys Jake and Charlie enjoy temporary prosperity—meaning they can buy meals, and sleep in a bed rather than an alley at night. Jake’s imagination is fired with the idea that words, “even if they’re not quite true, ... can make us see amazing things,” but the hope that the paper will continue to offer such sensationalistic “news” for them to peddle each day is plainly the sharper concern. Krensky concentrates on conveying the newsboys’ hand-to-mouth existence; the stories themselves and the unsurprising later revelation that they were a hoax draw only brief references and quotes in the narrative. These are supplemented by clipped fragments of illegible printing held by the crudely drawn, sometimes anachronistically dressed figures in Bisaillon’s scraped, mud-colored collages. Don Brown’s Kid Blink Beats the World (2004) brings the life of 19th-century newsboys into sharper focus, and when it comes to examining popular hoaxes, Meghan McCarthy’s Aliens Are Coming! (2006) sets the bar. (afterword) (Picture book. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-7613-5110-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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