The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin
Author: Cheryl Harness
Pages: 48
Publisher/Date: National Geographic/2005
ISBN: 0792278828
Age Levels: 9 and up

Book Review

January 17, 2006 marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin. A true Renaissance man, Franklin was a scientist, philosopher, printer, statesman, author, inventor, and more. It is difficult to say where his influence stops. Indeed, in the "Note from the Author," which begins this superb biography, Cheryl Harness writes:
In the spring of 1790, twenty thousand people came to Benjamin Franklin’s funeral in Philadelphia. Today, visitors to his grave may not even realize how long-gone Mr. Franklin has touched their lives. Perhaps they’ve warmed themselves by a Franklin stove, perhaps been helped by local firemen, and gone to the post office or to the public library (topped with lightning rods) to check out his Autobiography, the first masterpiece of American literature. Or they may have read, through their Franklin-invented bifocals, his best-seller, The Way to Wealth (in print since 1758). If so—and even if not—they may well have money engraved with Benjamin’s picture folded in their pockets. And, as folks have for more than 250 years, they might have peppered their conversations with bits of "Poor Richard’s" wisdom.
The book begins with Franklin’s birth and ends with his death. In between readers will learn of his early life as a printer’s apprentice, a runaway, and an entrepreneur, as well as his middle to late years in which he evolved from British citizen to an American rebel.

Harness writes with vitality and vigor and does an exceptional job at bringing Franklin to life for the reader. About his sojourn to England to visit the descendants of William Penn, for example, Harness notes:
In July 1757, 51-year-old Benjamin, former stranded teenager, was a great scientist and unofficial colonial ambassador. His longtime pen pals introduced him to worldly people who shared his love of talk and good books. He visited other parts of Europe, but Benjamin loved London, the foggy center of the 18th century’s superpower. He was proud of his English heritage and of America, where a person had a fairer chance to improve himself, as he had done. Most Londoners were poor, stuck in hard lives occasionally brightened by fairs, preachers, puppet shows, cockfights, and glimpses of rich folks, such as the famous Dr. Franklin. The aristocrats in Britain’s government, however, did not care how well known, well dressed, and stylishly wigged Benjamin might be. They did not intend to be charmed by a commoner from wild America. It was only after a long wrangle that Benjamin wrestled a compromise from the snobbish Penn family.
The illustrations, done with watercolors, gouache, ink, and colored pencils, are bustling with activity and period details. On every page Harness includes a quote from Franklin, allowing further insight into his character.

A detailed timeline of Franklin’s life is appended.

Classroom Experience/Uses: We took the book into a fourth-grade classroom and read it aloud to the students over a two-day period. The children were captivated, sitting stock still as the teacher read. Both teacher and students deemed it "outstanding," saying it was one of the best biographies they had read. Well suited for independent reading as well as read-alouds. Recommended also for middle grade classrooms.


Reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis
©2005 Education Oasis

About the Author

Cheryl Harness earned a degree in art education at Central Missouri State University. Her passion for art and teaching led her to write picture-book biographies to connect readers with people from the past. She has written and illustrated more than 20 children's books, including six presidential biographies for National Geographic: Young Abe Lincoln: The Frontier Days, 1809-1837, a Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies for 1997; Abe Lincoln Goes to Washington; George Washington, winner of a Parent Council Award; Young Teddy Roosevelt; The Revolutionary John Adams; Thomas Jefferson. Cheryl Harness lives in her hometown of Independence, Missouri, and is a sought-after speaker who enjoys entertaining her audiences by appearing in period costume. You may visit the author's website.


Be sure to visit PBS's Benjamin Franklin