An effectively presented and surprising slice of Benjamin Franklin’s childhood.

A BEN OF ALL TRADES

THE MOST INVENTIVE BOYHOOD OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

While Josiah Franklin seeks the right trade for his son, young Benjamin follows other pursuits.

Growing up in Colonial Boston, Benjamin loves reading and swimming. Eschewing his father’s candle making trade, Benjamin longs to be a sailor, but Josiah refuses. Worried his son’s becoming an “aimless woolgatherer,” Josiah unsuccessfully apprentices him to a joiner, a shoemaker, and a turner. Benjamin prefers swimming in Mill Pond, where he experiments with wooden paddles as flippers and a kite, using wind to pull himself through the water. Eventually, Josiah realizes Benjamin’s a boy of many trades and indentures him in a print shop, where he can “read and study and write” to his heart’s content. Expanding several incidents from Franklin’s Memoirs, this story reveals Franklin as a likable boy whose eclectic childhood interests led to his amazing life. Realistic, carefully executed watercolor-and-pencil illustrations in browns, grays, blues, and yellows effectively use light and varied perspectives to add drama to this formative period in Franklin’s life. Scenes of Benjamin sampling tedious trades alternate with upbeat scenes of him swimming, playing to the story’s theme. Text panels from antique books surrounded by Colonial-era nautical maps reflect Franklin’s interest in books and the sea, reinforcing the authentic period setting. The focus is on Benjamin and his close circle, all white.

An effectively presented and surprising slice of Benjamin Franklin’s childhood. (author’s note, illustrator’s note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0121-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A unique angle on a watershed moment in the civil rights era.

I AM RUBY BRIDGES

The New Orleans school child who famously broke the color line in 1960 while surrounded by federal marshals describes the early days of her experience from a 6-year-old’s perspective.

Bridges told her tale to younger children in 2009’s Ruby Bridges Goes to School, but here the sensibility is more personal, and the sometimes-shocking historical photos have been replaced by uplifting painted scenes. “I didn’t find out what being ‘the first’ really meant until the day I arrived at this new school,” she writes. Unfrightened by the crowd of “screaming white people” that greets her at the school’s door (she thinks it’s like Mardi Gras) but surprised to find herself the only child in her classroom, and even the entire building, she gradually realizes the significance of her act as (in Smith’s illustration) she compares a small personal photo to the all-White class photos posted on a bulletin board and sees the difference. As she reflects on her new understanding, symbolic scenes first depict other dark-skinned children marching into classes in her wake to friendly greetings from lighter-skinned classmates (“School is just school,” she sensibly concludes, “and kids are just kids”) and finally an image of the bright-eyed icon posed next to a soaring bridge of reconciliation. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A unique angle on a watershed moment in the civil rights era. (author and illustrator notes, glossary) (Autobiographical picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-338-75388-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston...

BEFORE SHE WAS HARRIET

A memorable, lyrical reverse-chronological walk through the life of an American icon.

In free verse, Cline-Ransome narrates the life of Harriet Tubman, starting and ending with a train ride Tubman takes as an old woman. “But before wrinkles formed / and her eyes failed,” Tubman could walk tirelessly under a starlit sky. Cline-Ransome then describes the array of roles Tubman played throughout her life, including suffragist, abolitionist, Union spy, and conductor on the Underground Railroad. By framing the story around a literal train ride, the Ransomes juxtapose the privilege of traveling by rail against Harriet’s earlier modes of travel, when she repeatedly ran for her life. Racism still abounds, however, for she rides in a segregated train. While the text introduces readers to the details of Tubman’s life, Ransome’s use of watercolor—such a striking departure from his oil illustrations in many of his other picture books—reveals Tubman’s humanity, determination, drive, and hope. Ransome’s lavishly detailed and expansive double-page spreads situate young readers in each time and place as the text takes them further into the past.

A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson’s Moses (2006). (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2047-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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