August 7, 2009

Jean Fritz



       The last two books I read for my summer Children's Lit. class were Jean Fritz's two biographies on Paul Revere and Ben Franklin.  They were a hoot!  At first I thought they seemed a bit long for read aloud, but my six year old daughter asked me to read them to her.  I thought, well, I'll indulge her but I'll stop as soon as she says she's bored.  She never was.  We read them both and she stopped and asked questions and made comments the whole time.  She loved them, so of course I did too.

The illustrations were delightful. They reminded my of the sly Edward Gorey. They completely added to the stories and helped my daughter with the context.

I liked how they were brief biographies of their subjects entire lives--not just one or two things that made them famous. It added to the whole picture of the times.

My only problem was her insistence on promoting that old Ben Franklin and the kite myth. He was very disciplined in writing up all of his scientific experiments and never wrote up such a dangerous endeavor. He was quite aware of the dangers of lightening and always wrote up the best way to insulate and protect the experimenters. If he did actually perform the experiment, he was under a covered structure, wearing insulated wrappings and simply flew the kite with the attached key into the charged clouds of thunderous weather. Then he would have pulled the kite down to see if the key had been electrically charged, which it would have been--no lightening strike necessary. Yet here's one of the more popular and well-known children's biographies with Ben Franklin on the cover with lightening striking the kite and him holding the key near his hand! That would only have been famous for the brief and dramatic death involved!

It's always fun to use this kind of myth-making history in class and then have the students look up the facts, though. It's great in history and science to prove that Franklin was no dabbler in science, but a true experimenter. In fact, it's the enormous fame as a scientist that led France to embrace him so readily and which subsequently led to his influence in getting their support for the Revolution. It was his science that saved our country!

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