Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Picture Book (History): John, Paul, George, & Ben (by Lane Smith)

Summary of John,Paul, George, & Ben (by Lane Smith):  
Author Lane Smith envisions what type of youngsters our founding fathers might have been—John (Hancock), Paul (Revere), George (Washington), Ben (Franklin), & Tom (Jefferson).   Focusing on one key aspect of each person, Smith depicts a fictional childhood incident.  For instances, Paul Revere is portrayed as a noisy lad who spends hours ringing the church bells in the belfry tower.   He also loves to yell things out—that some people might be embarrassed by (think “great, big, extra-large underwear”).    Many years later, his “talent” plays a significant role in the American Revolution.   Also, Lane takes an amusing poke at the story commonly associated with George Washington—the chopping of the cherry tree.   In this version, honest George does much more than cut down a cherry tree.  He also takes out an entire apple orchard, levels the barn, and makes kindling of his father’s carriage.    Each character’s childhood is treated similarly.   Lane pulls everything together in the end by providing a brief summary of the contribution each man did make in his real life.  Finally, the book is rounded out with a fun and witty True and False section where the record is set straight on the information in the book.

I am a fan of Lane Smith’s picture books.  He is always creative, entertaining, and even, a bit irrelevant.   Smith contributes a lot of the reshaping and rethinking of what a picture book and a story should be.  John, Paul, George, & Ben is no exception to his unique fingerprint on the world of children’s literature.  Anyone can write “the facts” about a founding father or other famous individual.  Smith has crafted a fictional narrative, but children will no doubt remember some genuine significant details about the figures.  For example, we don’t know if Ben Franklin quoted witty sayings as a child.  Children will likely remember that he is famous for them as an adult though.  The illustrations, also by Lane Smith, are wonderful.  They have a grainy, crackled texture and sepia coloring to give an old-fashioned feel.  Conveying lots of emotion and energy, the pictures compliment and expand the text well.   I highly recommend John,Paul, George, & Ben for ages 7 and up. 

Teaching Opportunities:
  • History:  it is a perfect complement to a study of the American Revolution
  • Writing:  pick a well-known figure and 1-2 predominate facts about him/her; write a story about their childhood using exaggeration and the predominate fact(s)
  • Critical Thinking:  evaluate and discuss what parts of the story are facts and which are fiction
  • Research:  research and report 5 facts on one of the figures from the book
  • Literary Comparison:  read another picture book on the founding fathers; compare/contrast them based on illustrations, facts, story telling, and so forth

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