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Benjamin Franklin, His Son Billy & America's First Circulating Library

by Jane Yolen ; illustrated by Wendell Minor

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-58089-719-8
Publisher: Charlesbridge

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)