Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty
This illustrated biography of the colonial statesman and inventor emphasizes political achievements, covering his personal life in lesser, but nonetheless adequate, detail. Freedman opens with Franklin as a seventeen-year-old runaway, arriving with a little money, a generous nature, and boundless energy in Philadelphia, where he rose rapidly in the printing trade and made connections that would eventually launch his political career. Freedman skillfully conveys the many stages of Franklin’s life a businessman and amateur (in the truest sense of the word) scientist until his “retirement” in his early forties, and then his second and better-known career as a public servant, Revolutionary leader, nation builder, and international diplomat. The density of the text is mitigated by spacious layouts and a wealth of generally well-captioned illustrations. A timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, and index are appended. Students with particular interest in Franklin’s inventions or his reputed amorous liaisons in Paris will want to consult additional biographies, but those pursuing general information will find this to be a readable, reliable resource. Review Code: R — Recommended. 2013, Holiday House, Grades 5-9, $24.95.
REVIEWER: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
Illustrated by Boris Kulikov
The Challenge in Krull’s latest Giants of Science entry is not adding to information about the redoubtable Founder but selecting and pairing information down to the scope of the series. The effort is successful, reframing Franklin’s portrait from that of statesman with an interest in science to that of a natural philosopher impelled by patriotic loyalty to often answer the call of public service. Krull is skill at condensing the non-scientific aspects of Franklin’s biography and bringing his scientific enthusiasm and achievements to the foreground, particularly his experiments in electricity which garnered him international acclaim. Technical explanations are admirable clear (especially discussion of why common portrayals of the famous kite experiment are misleading), and even when Franklin’s legion of inventions are expressed as lists, readers will enjoy many of the lesser known inclusion (the first flexible urinary catheter . . .who knew?). Kulikov again supplies his distinctive hatched pen and ink drawings and offers an engrossing gallery of imaginative takes on key episodes, saving a literal version of Ben with son William and kite for the concluding scene. Fans of this well-established series will welcome this new title while sharing guesses of who’s up next. 2012, Viking, Gr. 5-9, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Elizabeth Bush (BCCB).
The Caged Graves
In 1867, 17-year-old Verity Boone returns to her hometown of Catawissa, Pa., to live with her father and meet, for the first time, her fiancé, Nathaniel McClure. She’s jarred by the differences between the village and her previous life in Worchester, Mass., but even more so by an uneasy relationship with her taciturn father, who sent her away as a child after her mother’s sudden death. Meanwhile, the romantic letters and gifts sent by Nate seem to have come from a different man altogether-he appears mainly interested in acquiring her father’s land. Verity is further unsettled when she finds two graves (one belonging to her mother) imprisoned in iron cages outside the cemetery. She collects stories full of gaps and superstitions, but Verity will have to uncover the truth alone (with help from her mother’s journal). Salerni We Hear the Dead) constructs an absorbing, atmospheric, and dense work of historical fiction. Readers should find Verity’s persistent and risky attempts to dredge up the past compelling, and also relate to her equally significant search for where her heart lies. 2013, Clarion, Ages 12-up., $16.99.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
Byrd pushes the bounds of the picture-book format in this exhaustive exploration of the life of Benjamin Franklin-dense blocks of text vie for space with Byrd’s meticulously inked and detailed illustrations, as well as the many aphorisms for which Franklin is known (“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”). There’s a wealth of information to be found within, as Byrd covers Franklin’s early printing days (including humorous anecdotes about pseudonymous letters and gossip he would publish), his publication of Poor Richard’s Almanack, and his involvement in the scientific and political spheres. It’s a fascinating and comprehensive portrait, and an asset for student research. 2012, Dial Books, Ages 5-8, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys
R. Conrad Stein
For over 200 years historians have debated some of the actions taken by Ethan Allen. Was he a traitor working with the British or fiercely loyal to his beloved Vermont? He certainly was a giant of a man at 6 feet 5 inches and his exploits have become legendary. His rough and tumble Green Mountain boys fought the Yorkers over land and later the British during the War for Independence. Led by Allen and Benedict Arnold, they captured Fort Ticonderoga, “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” Not one life was lost. When Allen was caught and imprisoned, his boys fought on to defeat the British at the battle of Bennington. Excellent photographs and illustrations accompany a source that is richly detailed, and part of the “Cornerstones of Freedom, Second Series” volumes. Bibliographic resources, an index, timeline, and glossary make Stein’s book an ideal source for an American history curriculum. 2003, Childrens Press, Ages 8 to 12, $24.00.
REVIEWER: Laura Hummel (Children’s Literature).
Laurie Halse Anderson
Continuing the story of Corzon and Isabelle begun in Chains (Simon & Schuster, 2008), Laurie Halse Anderson takes her protagonists into the heart of the Revolutionary War. Enlisting in the patriots’ army to avoid re-enslavement after escaping from a British prison, Corzon ends up in an army regiment that winters with Washington’s troops at Valley Forge. Details of life there unfold in vivid scenes that also chronicle Corzon’s growing friendship with fellow soldiers, most (but not all) of whom treat him as an equal. When Corzon’s former master shows up at Valley Forge, Corzon is re-enslaved and discovers that runaway Isabelle has also been captured. Anderson deftly uses flashbacks to recount necessary details from Chains as she sets this compelling tale of the fierce desire for freedom against the backdrop of our nation’s fight to be free of tyranny. A helpful question-and-answer section at the novel’s end clarifies fact from fiction in a narrative grounded with terrific characters, and propelled by a swift-paced plot. (Seeds of America) CCBC Category: Fiction for Young Adults. 2010, Atheneum, Age 11 and older, $16.99.
REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).
Friends of Liberty
The year is 1773. With England and the colonies at odds, a line is being drawn between beliefs shared by the Patriots, or Whigs, who are American colonists supporting rebellion against Great Britain, versus those shared by Tories, or Loyalists, the colonists loyal to Great Britain. Although Sally hears rumblings from dissatisfied colonists in her father’s shoe shop, she cares nothing of politics. At twelve years old, she dreams of spending time with Kitty, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. When Kitty insists that exchanging something left behind by their mothers, who both died from smallpox, will make them sisters-at-heart, Sally doesn’t feel as if she can refuse. She wants more than anything to be considered Kitty’s sister. As tensions increase, though, she finds it difficult to understand what is appropriate to say and do as she tries to maintain this bond. A reader would be hard-pressed to put down Friends of Liberty. From the opening to the closing, Gormley succeeds at making readers feel as if they’re living the moments that lead up to the American Revolution. This book is historical fiction at its very best. 2013, Eerdmans, Ages 9 to 13, $8.00.
REVIEWER: Bonita Herold (Children’s Literature).
George Washington: Hero of the American Revolution
Crabtree’s elementary-level nonfiction will prove a fine addition to any library seeking titles for grades 3-4. Each book holds some 32 pages of detail, pairing full-color illustrations with guides that lend to library research and classroom assignment. The ‘Understanding the American Revolution’ series uses modern color illustrations, detailed maps, and uses primary source materials from documents to artifacts to trace the circumstances surrounding the Revolution. Eight new books divide information and provide a blend of review and critical-thinking questions to help students analyze documents. Content has been vetted by consultant to assure accurate, bias-free information. George Washington: Hero of the American Revolution provides a biographical coverage of Washington and his rise to power, examining how his perspective and influence led to the Revolution’s success. 2012, Crabtree Publishing, Grades 3-4, $22.95.
REVIEWER: Midwest Book Review (Children’s Bookwatch).
Henry and the Cannons
The year is 1775 and the American Colonists are at war with the British. It is winter and things are looking bleak for Washington’s army in Boston. They badly need cannons, but the closest are miles away through the forest at Fort Ticonderoga. Henry Knox, a plump Boston bookseller, convinces Washington that he can help. After a week of very difficult horseback riding through rain and snow, Knox arrives at Fort Ticonderoga. However, his difficulties are only beginning. He chose fifty-nine cannons to take to Boston. Knox and his men encountered problems all along their journey. They had to pull the cannons from icy waters and over steep mountains. Through sheer will, after approximately fifty days Knox brought the cannons to General Washington in Boston without losing a single cannon. Three months later, Washington’s army surprised the British troops by arranging the cannons overlooking Boston. Upon seeing the cannons, the British departed Boston leaving their own cannons behind. Brown’s colorful illustrations greatly enhance the story particularly when the story moves across several panels. For example, to illustrate Knox’s journey to Fort Ticonderoga, Brown uses three panels showing Knox riding through clouds, rain, and snow. Readers may follow Knox’s journey on the map at the beginning. This amazing story of an unlikely hero will inspire young readers as well as give them a valuable lesson in American history. 2013, Roaring Brook, Ages 6 to 9, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Shirley Nelson (Children’s Literature).
Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot
Henry Knox is one of the forgotten heores of the American Revolution. He moved 59 pieces of artillery, weighing between 100 and 5,500 pounds each, from Fort Ticonderorga on Lake Champlain to the Dorchester Heights surrounding Boston–a distance of 300 miles. This feat included floating the guns across Lake Champlain and then moving them over an unpopulated terrain of mountains, dense forests, and high ridges in the middle of a New England winter. No wonder many called the expedition “Knox’s Folly.” Anita Silvey in Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot has brought this near-miraculous endeavor to life. While that journey is the centerpiece of the book, Silvey also presents information about Knox’s life before and after his wartime career. The paintings by Wendell Minor are done in an impressionistic style and contibute greatly to the vibrancy of the text. Each text chapter is one to two pages long; chapters are presented in chronological order with emphasis placed on moving the artillery pieces. Silvey includes source notes, a chronology of Knox’s life, a bibliography, and a list of suggestions for further reading. The end papers trace the route taken by Knox and show monotint snapshots of the paintings of the major events in moving the artillery pieces. 2010, Clarion Books, Ages 7 to 11, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Ann Bullion-Mears (The Lorgnette – Heart of Texas Reviews).
The Hero of Ticonderoga
Tessy is the only one in sixth grade who doesn’t want to give the sought-after Ethan Allen report. When the privilege falls to her anyway, she reluctantly digs up surprising anecdotes about the “boring dead guy.” She may not be a good student, but she knows if you include enough “drinking, swearing, and generally getting in trouble-people will listen.” The result is a funny and entertaining book in which readers will learn about Vermont’s struggle for land rights circa the Revolutionary War-in spirited Tessy style. They’ll also learn what it means to be an unlikely hero, not just from Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, but from Tessy’s own example. Her wit and wisdom blossom as she deals with a never-ending assignment, a grade school dropout father who embarrasses her, and poor friendship choices. In this tale, personality is more compelling than plot, and Tessy’s energy and laugh-out-loud humor keep the story moving, especially when the report becomes slightly over-long towards the end. When George Washington described Ethan Allen he said, “There is an original something in him that commands admiration.” Readers will feel the same way about Tessy-the nobody who people listened to. 2001, Putnam, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Betty Hicks (Children’s Literature).
King George: What Was His Problem?
The nine chapters of this lively, funny, and thoroughly researched book present the people and events of the American Revolution in a clear and very personal way. Black and white drawings add extra movement and humor to the text as well as while showing what places and people looked like. Ten maps make it easy to visualize the location of the colonies and the details of major battles. The individual chapters make good use of multiple section headings that arouse the reader’s curiosity; the section about the dangers of signing the “Declaration of Independence,” for example, is headed “Sign Here–If You Dare.” The text makes excellent and extensive use of quotations that give life to people on both sides of the conflict. The organization and content lay out the causes, events, and results of the revolution in such a way that the author’s fascination with his subject transfers itself to the reader. The text is followed by a section of alphabetized paragraphs summarizing the later lives of twenty-one of the men and women mentioned in the book, an index, a section of quotation notes, and five pages of source notes broken into books about the revolution, books about events leading up to it, books about specific battles, biographies, collections of quotations, and memoirs. 2008 (orig. 2005), Flash Point, Ages 9 to 14, $19.95.
REVIEWER: Judy DaPolito (Children’s Literature).
Lafayette and the American Revolution
Newbery Medalist Freedman, biographer and historian to the young, employs his easy-to-read style in chronicling the life of Gen. Gilbert de Lafayette, an unlikely but key player in the American Revolution. Opening with Lafayette’s dramatic, secretive departure from France, the author seizes readers’ attention up front and holds it with a straightforward narrative that relies on quotations and anecdotes from Lafayette’s unconventional life. The book’s 10 chapters recount how the aristocratic Frenchman, who disdained court life and craved battlefield glory, came to the aid of the Continental Army and ended up one of George Washington’s closest associates and friends. Reprints of drawings and colorful portraits break up the text and put faces to some of the myriad names. From Lafayette’s mostly fatherless childhood and military career to his exile for his part in the French Revolution and his final, vindicated days, audiences receive a multidimensional view of the general, who once referred to himself as “an American, after alla “just returned from a long visit to Europe.” A time line, source notes, bibliography, and index complete this thorough account. 2010, Holiday House, Ages 10 & up, $24.95.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
The Liberty Bell
The editors at Picture Window Books must have been reading librarians’ and educators’ minds when they put together the “American Symbols” series. The 974s (Dewey) are thin on inspiring read-alouds and Firestone’s guided tour of the Liberty Bell hits the nail on the head. Beginning with the purpose of bells in Colonial times, readers are taken on the complex journey of this national symbol. After a dud of a bell arrived from England, two founders, or metal smiths, John Pass and John Stow, were charged with recasting the bell for the State House in Pennsylvania. We follow the Liberty Bell as it moves from the State House, to a basement in Allentown, all over the country to unite people after the Civil War, and back to its home in Philadelphia. Firestone provides a short list of print and online resources for kids who want to go above and beyond. Skeens’ illustrations have a cubist, wood-carved look to them that makes this one of the most appealing patriotic titles for young readers. A nice complement to John, Paul, George and Ben by Jon Scieszka and Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, students will be transported back to the days of our founding fathers. This book is recommended for both school and public libraries. 2007, Picture Window, . Ages 5 to 9, $23.93.
REVIEWER: Kristy Lyn Sutorius (Children’s Literature).
Our Liberty Bell
Henry Jonas Magaziner
Who would have predicted, given its inauspicious beginnings (cracked when first rung, cast twice more because of its horrendous sound), that the bell ordered to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Pennsylvania’s Charter of Privileges would become one of America’s most recognizable symbols? Magaziner details, often with understated humor, its use to alert citizens of news, its being hidden in a church during the Revolutionary War, its being a star attraction in the 1876 Centennial Exposition, its travels around the United States, and its image’s use to promote other important causes like abolition of slavery and women’s rights. This short book (twenty-nine pages of text) is content heavy, with reasonably sophisticated vocabulary (forty-six words in the glossary). Magaziner, for many years a regional historical historian for the National Park Service, definitely knows whereof he speaks and weaves a lot of U.S. history into the text. O’Brien’s black-and-white sketches (color on the cover) add humor more than information. On page twenty he morphs the eagle into the Liberty Bell. The book’s slimness makes it appear to be for younger readers, but its design, with longs stretches of text on many pages and its vocabulary suggest it would be best used with students in grade four or above. Teachers or parents of younger students could easily pull snippets for use with younger children who are interested in the bell. 2007, Holiday House, Ages 8 to 12, $15.95.
RREVIEWER: Peg Glisson (Children’s Literature).
The Real Benedict Arnold
If all readers know about Benedict Arnold is that he was a traitor to the American Revolution, this remarkable book will broaden their viewpoints and perhaps even soften their opinions. Arnold is shown to be a flawed, smart, talented, persistent human being and not just a one-dimensional turncoat. Arnold’s story almost reads like fiction. He rose in military and business stature only to be brought low repeatedly. He was a brilliant soldier whose achievements were never recognized by his superiors. He paid for his troop’s food and supplies out of his own pockets for years, yet when he petitioned the Continental Congress for a refund, they investigated him, refused to pay, and said that he owed them money. Murphy is straightforward about Arnold’s tempestuousness, forceful personality, and fondness for lawsuits. But he also shows how many people slandered, cheated, and tried their best to wreck Arnold. When even his friends and defenders abandoned him, it appears obvious to the reader why he changed sides. Murphy creates a compelling read for history buffs. There are many engravings of the people involved. In lieu of the usual bibliography, Murphy offers a multipaged section called Notes, Sources, and Related Asides that is as enjoyable as his main body of text. That Arnold betrayed the revolution is never denied, but this fast-paced, interesting, and well-written book sheds light on who he was before his traitorous act and why he chose to commit it. Whatever readers think of Arnold, they have a much better picture of him after reading this book. Illus. Maps. Source Notes. Further Reading., 2007, Clarion, Ages 11 to 18, $20.00.
REVIEWER: Geri Diorio (VOYA).
Remember Valley Forge: Patriots, Tories, and Spies Tell Their Stories
Thomas B. Allen
This handsome entry to National Geographic’s series devoted to “remembering” pivotal events in American history (Pearl Harbor, D-Day, World War II, Little Bighorn, and, of course, the Alamo) artfully recounts the bitter winter Washington’s half-starved, half-naked, and half-frozen troops spent at Valley Forge, as well as the events leading up to that cruel and crucial winter (“the road to Valley Forge”) and its heartening aftermath (“the road to victory”). Allen provides a fresh look at the Revolutionary War, portraying it as not only a revolution of the thirteen colonies against the British crown, but as “a true civil war, with the people of the Colonies divided, neighbor fighting neighbor.” By focusing on the words of one young recruit, Joseph Martin (whose subsequent memoir is one of the richest sources of information on the experience of Continental soldiers), together with quotes from Washington’s letters and diaries, Allen shows how the ragtag recruits were transformed, through the drilling of Prussian officer Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, into a true army. Allen concludes that Valley Forge was indeed “a forge, where suffering and discipline hammered a band of brave men, turning them into an army with a new spirit and resolve.” His persuasive and engaging text is sumptuously illustrated with photographs and period paintings. Includes a timeline of the Revolutionary War, a bibliography, and an index. 2007, National Geographic, Ages 10 up, $17.95.
REVIEWER: Claudia Mills, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
We The People: The Story of Our Constitution
Lynne V. Cheney
With clarity and precision, Lynne Cheney simply and succinctly outlines the obstacles faced in 1788 by the new nation in keeping it from falling apart. When the 12 delegates met in Philadelphia, individual states were printing their own money, the British troops refused to vacate military posts, and the farmers of Massachusetts were rising up against the fragile government. Against this backdrop Cheney explains how leaders like Madison, Washington and Franklin worked with those who disagreed with their proposals, men like William Patterson of New Jersey, Governor Morris of Pennsylvania, and John Dickinson of Delaware. How diverse individuals representing diverse regions and ideas reached a compromise that yielded a document that goes to the very core of the republic is fascinating and very readable for young readers. Harlin’s watercolors capture the period and the mood of the emerging nation. His portraits of the remarkable Founding Fathers breathe life and character into them. In this year of a highly charged presidential election readers are reminded of the lasting power of the Constitution and the fractious time in which it was conceived and executed. 2008, Simon & Schuster, Ages 9 to 12, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Beverley Fahey (Children’s Literature).
Samuel is thirteen years old and lives on the edge of a wilderness in colonial Pennsylvania. The Revolutionary War rages but for Samuel all that seems to matter is the life he leads in the woodlands that surround his family’s cabin. Samuel feels at home in the woods. He loves to track game, hunt, and study all aspects of the world that exists within the forest. Samuel thinks of himself as a woods runner, a person so at home in the forest that they become a part of it. But then the soldiers and Iroquois come. Samuel’s cabin and the nearby settlement are destroyed by the invading British forces. Samuel’s parents are gone, taken captive by the enemy. Faced with this crisis Samuel decides to track his parents in a seemingly vain attempt to rescue them. This decision begins an epic journey for Samuel. On the journey he sees the face of war in all its grim aspects. In the end, Samuel discovers a great deal about the kindness and the cruelty that people are capable of. In this historical tale, the renowned author Gary Paulsen once again takes up the task of telling the story of a bygone era. In the past Gary Paulsen has consistently demonstrated his ability to capture the nuances of a time period while crafting believable characters. In Woods Runner Paulsen once again captures a moment in time and the people who lived it in a way that will educate and touch his readers. This is a fine historical novel and one that allows its readers to better appreciate all the costs that war exacts. 2010, Wendy Lamb Books, Ages 12 up, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Greg M. Romaneck (Children’s Literature).