Katie Morag

Do you know Katie Morag? We were just introduced last year when a dear godmother sent my son Katie Morag Delivers the Mail.  It was followed up this year with Katie Morag and the Big Boy Cousins. My (carrot-topped) son is now six years old and he pretends to be offended to receive books starring a female protagonist. But he's still the first one to curl up next to me when I pull them out! As it is, the series of books are very popular in the U.K. and don't seem to be as widely known here. Pity though, because they are lots of fun. Right away I was drawn to three things:

*It's about islanders. Ever since living on Whidbey Island, I've developed a deep appreciation for island stories. There's something about being an islander that is very different than living on the mainland and I like to catch parts of that in stories like Katie Morag or such...
*It stars a red-head. Call it the Pippi Longstocking syndrome, but since I have two redheads of my own now, I'm always drawn to gingers... who tend to be spitfires.
*It's based in Scotland! Who doesn't love a good Scottish brogue? You can almost hear it in the characters in these stories...

And of course there are the illustrations. They are reminiscent of Barbara Cooney in some ways, just perfect for this setting of a feisty, little girl who lives on an island off of Scotland. Mairi Hedderwick is a talented author/illustrator and I love how easily she depicts the simple island life. The stories are simple fun, they aren't action packed adventures with high adrenaline or anything... just plain, easy going goodness. Hedderwick makes sure that she doesn't romanticize the pastoral, island life too much though and she includes stories of different changes and things that happen. There are some adults who want to call these stories very socially PC nowadays: some non stereotypical roles fit into the stories: Granny Island always wears overalls and she's very handy too. The father can be seen doing the dishes in an apron at one point. And apparently there was a Grandpa Island at one point but they are not married and I've yet to find anything objectionable with that rarely-mentioned situation. The books even include some adult humor, not anything objectionable but little things that the children won't catch. There is one interesting thing to note about these stories:

Hedderwick has unwittingly become part of a censorship struggle as she commonly depicts Katie's mother breastfeeding the baby. I personally love this ("Train 'em young!") when it's done tastefully but there is one image in Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted in which the entire breast is exposed because the baby is looking back at his sister. (Here is the picture with the image blurred.) Some libraries have refused to stock the book because of this and Hedderwick's editors were really skittish to want to leave it unedited. She has since said that she makes sure mother's breast is now covered completely just to avoid the struggle with editors. I haven't seen all the books so I'll just take her word for it.

Still, if you are looking for something a little bit different and a little bit fun... Katie Morag might be just the ticket.

Top Ten Best Disney Alternatives

Well everybody has an opinion on Disney, I may as well chime in with my two cents. In a nutshell: I love classic Disney movies. I also appreciate the occasional recent movie from the company as well.  What I don't love is the current huge, bloated, over-commericalized Disney industry. I have other complaints from an artistic and ethical standpoint also, but I've not the energy to lay all that out there.  Generally speaking, I am disheartened by the commercialization of children. I want my daughter to love princesses sure. But do they have to always come with a trademark symbol after their name?!

So, here we have it then. My top ten alternatives to the Disney Empire. Keep in mind that many of the original fairy tales were actually written for adults, so the themes can get very dark, graphic or mature.  The books I have here are much more faithful to the original fairy tale (or myth or history) than the movies Walt and his contemporaries have made and may have some of those darker elements. Even if you are a Disney lover, reading these books would be an interesting lesson in "compare and contrast" for children of multiple ages.

1. Snow White illustrated by Charles Santore. Rich, traditional illustrations make this a great choice, and my boys especially love what they call "the big head dwarves." But I do confess to having a soft spot also for the version by Paul Heins because Trina Schart Hyman adds the detail of a Marian image on one wall... plus the princess seems to age a little more congruently in her story.

2. Cinderella by K.Y. Craft definitely takes the cake here. Craft's vibrant and ornate style is especially suited to this fairy tale. Barbara McClintock's version of the story gets an honorable mention for a fun story and a young George Washington looking prince!

3. Aladdin And The Enchanted Lamp will substitute nicely for the letdown of Disney's version; if you aren't familiar with the story, you will be surprised at the liberties taken and unnecessary changes the movie made. Aladdin and the Magic Lamp by James Kunstler also looks promising (not having read it myself) as well as this version adapted by Eric Kimmel (of whom I am generally a great fan).

4. Hercules by Robert Burleigh is my favorite picture book alternative to the Disney movie.  Though this story only details the final of the twelve labors, it's just the right size for younger children. While James Riordan's book The Twelve Labors of Hercules is extremely well done and faithful to original story, it is fairly long and pretty graphic. There is the question of whether or not some of those images need picture representation at all. However, if we want to leave the book category altogether, I don't think you'll find a better retelling of the Hercules tale than that done by Jim Weiss.

5. Rapunzel by Alix Berenzy is my favorite adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tale. This one is far more popular but I think the author got a little sloppy with how Rapunzel got pregnant. In the original tale, and in Berenzy's work, the symbol of her laying her hand in the prince's seems to be what suffices for marriage vows. Then the story tastefully goes on with the prince finding Rapunzel at long last with their twins. At least with this there is no question of Rapunzel's virtue being held intact.  The version of Rapunzel done by Barbara Rogasky (illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman) is also a winner and deals with the marriage situation artfully through omission. Rogasky actually states when the twins come in that Rapunzel and the prince were married by then and it's done in a way that children won't be asking "Wait, when did that happen?!"

6. Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg is my favorite. The illustrations by Angela Barrett are just right: full, captivating, moody, and evocative. This particular version isn't 100% accurate to the tale, but it is still full and rich and  the very minor embellishments just add to the beauty in my opinion. There are two other good options out there as well: the one by Jan Brett is clean, fairly simple and of course features the always lovely Brett artwork. And then the book by Marianna Mayer is pretty neat too. My only aversion to this one is that the illustrations of the beast (done by Mercer Mayer) are truly frightening. His eyes pop out in a very sort of disturbing way... but maybe it's just me.

7. Pocahontas by the D'Aulaires is the only really solid alternative to the mediocre Disney movie. The movie itself was fairly informative but it of course avoided some of the uglier sides of the story (e.g. how the English treated her tribe). Reportedly, Disney turned down the offer of Native Americans who wanted to help the company produce a more accurate movie, but that's just hearsay. But at least we have one great biography by the excellent Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire. Their fun and appealing art is always a treat for children. I have seen a couple other books on Pocahontas but none stick out in my mind as pushing past mediocrity.  I think it's time for someone to produce a beautiful and lavish book on this fascinating princess!

8. The Little Mermaid is the reason I wanted to write this post. Like any other little girl, I loved the Disney version of Little Mermaid. When I grew up and finally read the original tale, I was shocked at how dumbed down the cartoon version was... and how the ultimate ending of sacrifice and references to the eternal life were entirely omitted. But hey, Disney is in it for happy endings and I get that. The original tale is kind of an ambivalent ending: mermaid doesn't get her prince, but she will get the chance to earn her afterlife. The versions available are tricky... I wanted to find something that still guarded the modesty of the mermaids without it being obvious or kitschy (e.g. clam shell bras). That unfortunately ruled out some beautiful versions of the story, most notably that done by Charles Santore (there is a new version available for pre-order on this one). I also was looking for something that preserved as much of the original language of the story as possible since it is just so extraordinary. This combination, tasteful illustrations and excellent text, was hard to come by. Robert Sabuda has a pop-up book (and I'm certain that 'hardcover' price will change in time) coming out later this year that could be excellent. Initial pictures of the pop-outs are incredible but I don't know how the text will be yet. So I eventually settled on the the version the adaptation by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki. The story is simplified somewhat so the text isn't as wonderful as Santore's, and I was a little disappointed that the sea witch didn't seem very evil but I really appreciate the watery, ethereal illustrations by Iwasaki. Even if they aren't traditionally rich and bold, the simple sketch and watercolor technique is very fitting for this particular tale.

9. FA Mulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior by Robert San Souci is a very well done story about the Chinese folk hero, Mulan. This book is the actual one Disney used for the basis of their movies. And I have to admit, the movie version of this tale isn't too far out there or ridiculous at all! For a later-released Disney flick, it was surprisingly well done all said and done.  Anyway, as usual though, the book is better!  And the illustrations here by Jean & Mou-Sien Tseng are, like Iwasaki's Little Mermaid, the perfect fit for this story. They are bright, ornate and faithful. China's Bravest Girl is another title you can look up in your library if this one is missing...

10. The Sleeping Beauty by Trina Schart Hyman is a narrow winner for this story. I also really love this version illustrated by K.Y. Craft.  But in the luxurious pictures in Craft's book, the good fairy's good body is fairly suggestively shown once (hey I've got four boys who don't need that titillation!) and the witch in the tale is incredibly scary looking. In Hyman's book, she gets major points for having the most handsome prince of all the fairy tale books I've ever seen. I admit this is just personal preference, but I really have no use for effeminate looking men in tights who've never needed a razor.  Craft's Prince Charming comes with facial hair and looks manly and rugged and like someone who could definitely defend a princess from a dragon!

Where Pictures Fail Stories

Several years ago, we went on a campout with our three boys (at the time) and were delighted to have a professional storyteller there who enchanted us all with a few great tales.  I don't remember much about what the actual stories were, but I do remember looking around at the faces of everyone listening... children and adults in rapt, wide-eyed attention. And a tiny seed burst through my wintry soil where the idea was frozen that picture books are the best medium for everything. Had that storyteller been reading us a tale, even one with fantastic pictures, the effect would've been quite different and the moment much more prosaic, in a librarian's 10-am-story-hour sort of way.

I've been thinking a lot about this: no matter much I absolutely love picture books... not all things should be in pictures.  I'm not talking about the obvious, like cartoon depictions of the Holocaust or anything of that nature; that should be a given.  I'm thinking about some things that are so fantastical, yet so noble, they deserve to be lived out in our minds only.  Or simply tales that are suited for telling, not showing! I know it seems inconceivable almost to admit that.  But this idea started percolating in my head after I read what is hands down the most complete picture book about Hercules done by Robert Byrd. The Twelve Labors of Hercules details it all.  The blood, the guts, the glory. The thing is... I don't think those things all should be shown in picture.  What Hercules teaches children, and indeed all mankind, is mostly about a lesson of perseverance.  (To be completely fair, the story gets weird at the end;the Greeks weren't in the business of moral formation with their tales... they were simply passing on folklore.)  Think of some of the famous Greek monsters he and others (e.g. Ulysses) encountered: Cerberus (a three-headed dog from Hell) or Scylla (a six-headed man-eating monster) for example.

I think the mind of the child in some psychological way, knows its own limits of fear development. What I mean is that if a child never SEES Scylla or Cerberus, the imaginings alone are enough to awe him into a healthy sort of fear.  But once a picture book makes those monsters incarnate with a printed picture... it gets burned into their minds.  A movie takes the damage even further of course.  (We recently studied the Donner Party's ill-fated crossing of the mountains and my 10 and 8 year olds were properly disturbed after hearing how cannibalism happened... but then we started watching a documentary-with live actor enactments- and though nothing direct was shown, the discussion of it, and the actors' crazed look in his eye and the pan of entrails in the background horrified my children into tears and nightmares for the next couple nights.  We quickly turned the movie off but the damage was done and my guilt is residual.)

I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm sort of glad not all that many myths get put into picture books.  I love the stories of course, and there's no contesting that some of the books out there are breathtakingly beautiful.  But I will not make it a goal of mine to deliberately collect such books.  There is a very real, and perhaps under-recognized difference between books and stories.  Some things really ought to be left in the story realm.  Professional storytellers really do have a noble profession! The telling of tales from the mind is really an art form.  I think that while we feast regularly on picture books here, it's important to pull out some of our dusty old collections of fairy tales (think Andrew Lang's colored fairy books) and myths (I know of no better than the assortment from William Russell.) if we weren't born of the spontaneous story-telling ilk (i.e. Irish). If you do want to impress your kids however, think of a famous tale you know and simply change out the names and details to make it your own and tell it at bedtime straight from the heart, in a pace that it deserves.

“Storytellers are the most powerful people on earth. They might not be the best paid-- but they are the most powerful. Storytellers have the power to move the human heart-- and there is no greater power on earth.” 

― Laurie H. Hutzler


"Do you think there are sharks in the sea?" asked Sam. "Have you ever seen one?"
"Just a little one," said Stella, "with an eyepatch."

If you know not Stella, it's time to introduce yourself.  She's a lovely little ginger spitfire who treks all around with her wee brother Sam at her heels. The stories don't have much of a plot; they exist to give a peek into the world of young children. Sam asks lots of questions about life. Stella allows you to listen in on her answers.  Their dialogue is fantastic.

"Look," said Sam, "some clouds just landed in that field."
"Those aren't clouds, Sam. They're sheep."
"Aren't sheep dangerous?" asked Sam. 
"About as dangerous as woolly blankets," said Stella.
  I've read every Stella book so far and having a little carrot-top daughter myself (who comes complete with her own toddling brother!) I was compelled to purchase the treasury of Marie-Louise Gay's works on her as an upcoming gift for the little lass.

Stella!: A Treasury is one of those great compilations that does NOT sacrifice the individual stories either through abridgment or picture size/quality. Stella, Queen of the SnowStella, Fairy of the ForestStella, Princess of the Sky and When Stella Was Very, Very Small are all there. And this is a good thing since a couple of those titles in hardback are already out of print. What an insult! Skip the hunt for individual titles and get this anthology! There is apparently a Stella and Sam cartoon on Canada's Disney channel and it looks like the animation is spot on... (It's really neat to read about the author detailing how this came to be here.) and there are some downloads coming soon on the author's website that look like they could be a lot of fun.  In addition to Stella, Gay has a few titles with Sam as the hero now as well as some other items. Any way you have her, Stella is good for the child in any of us.

Spinning Straw into Gold

There is a lovely blog celebrating all things fairy tale and the author, Christie, just published my article on mythology. Visit her piece of cyberspace and enjoy!

Music, Mozart and Riots in Paris over Russian Ballets

How very sad that history is so tragically boring for so many students. I feel like I got the short end of the stick in growing up not interested in history. This is why I've made it my personal mission to bring people and cultures and events and pasts alive and relevant to my own children. Picture books are an amazing help in this category. Currently in the thick of the American Western Expansion as well as Ancient Rome, I've been glued to the stories my children and I read together. Who knew it could be so fascinating?! The story of mankind is downright riveting!

As it is, we utilize picture books a lot to learn about composers and music. The stories behind some of the greatest music in the world are tremendously compelling. The first dip into living music history has been brought to us courtesy of the books by Anna Harwell Celenza and I've even used her books as spines for which composer we study. (Still waiting on Mozart Anna! Will I have to settle for the nice but incomplete The Magic Flute: An Opera by Mozart? Or try to find a copy of the tragically out of print Mozart Finds a Melody?Thankfully, Diane Stanley offers us a good biography to start with: Mozart: The Wonder Child).  Each of Celenza's books doesn't try to give a biographical sketch of the composer (like some other good picture books out there) but rather focuses on the individual story that inspired a particular piece of music, e.g. Beethoven's joy and then dissilusionment about Napoleon with The Heroic Symphony or the homesick musicians who put their feet down with Haydn's Farewell Symphony, etc. Her latest installment is Vivaldi's Four Seasons which is at the top of my wish list!

As it is, finding picture books on some of the less famous composers is much more difficult. This is why I was particularly delighted to read Lauren Stringer's newest book: When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky. The story is my favorite kind for my multi-aged family. Simple and easy for my 6 year old to understand and enjoy and with comprehensive end-notes for my 10 year old to research further into it. Stringer illustrated the book in her typical bold colorful way but with added meaning:
Dance and music were not the only arts undergoing colossal change at the beginning of the twentieth century. All of the arts were exploding in new compositions, colors and dimensions. In celebration of that change, I have made reference to many of my favorite paintings from that time throughout this book. To illustrate when Stravinsky and Nijinsky first met in 1911, I found inspiration in elements of The Red Studio by Henri Matisse, painted in the same year. Cubism took the art world by storm in 1907... several of my illustrations reflect cubist influence on that angular, flattened choreography of Nijinsky and the fractured, dissonant chords of Stravinsky's music...
The story is about The Rite of Spring and how that came to be. The extraordinary thing about this is how one 34 minute ballet could cause a riot in 1913 Paris! The audience was so taken aback by the very novelty of the music and dancers that they protested and argued and threw punches over whether it was a disaster or brilliance!

My kids, so saturated in such a wide variety of music and dance nowadays found this to be quite perplexing and amusing. Stringer's website provides an activity guide for this book that makes the entire story an excellent cornerstone for a unit study. History is thrilling indeed!

On Lending Books

Roger Rosenblatt said this about book lending:
Should we not abjure our pettiness, open our libraries, and let our most valued possessions fly from house to house, sharing the wealth.  Certain clerics with vows of poverty did this  Inside their books was printed not EX LIBRIS but AD USUM--for the use of-- indicating that it is better to lend than to keep, that all life's gifts are transitory.

I agree with a materialistic sort of agony...  this extended bit is also by Rosenblatt; I found it in a book I'm reading:


The custom of borrowing books confutes nature. In every other such situation, the borrower becomes a slave to the lender, the social weight of the debt so altering the balance of a relationship that a tempo­rary acquisition turns into a permanent loss. This is certainly true with money. Yet it is not at all true with books. For some reason a book borrower feels that a book, once taken, is his own. This removes both memory and guilt from the transaction. Making mat­ters worse, the lender believes it, too. To keep up appearances, he may solemnly extract an oath that the book be brought back as soon as possible; the borrower answering with matching solemnity that the Lord might seize his eyes were he to do otherwise. But it is all play. Once gone, the book is gone forever. The lender, fearing rudeness, never asks for it again. The borrower never stoops to raise the subject.

Can book borrowers be thwarted? There are attempts. Some hopeful people glue stickers that read EX LIBRIS to the inside covers (clever drawings of ani­mals wearing glasses, adorable yet pointless, and the name of the owner: "EX LIBRIS Rosenblattimus") ‑ as if the presence of Latin and the imprint of a name were so formidable as to reverse a motor reflex. It never works. One might try slipping false jackets on one's books ‑ a cover for Cry the Beloved Country dis­guising a book actually entitled Utility Rates in Ottawa: A Woman's View.

There's no spectacle that is as terrifying as the sight of a guest in your house whom you catch staring at your books. It is not the judgmental possibility that is frightening. The fact that one's sense of discrimination is exposed by his books. Indeed, most people would much prefer to see the guest first scan, then peer and turn away in boredom or disapproval. Alas, too often the eyes, dark with calculation, shift from title to title as from floozie to floozie in an overheated dance hall. Nor is that the worst. It is when those eyes stop moving that the heart, too, stops.

The guest's body twitches; his hand floats up to where his eyes have led it. There is nothing to be done. You freeze. He smiles. You hear the question even as it forms: "Would you mind if I borrowed this book?"

Mind? Why should I mind? The fact that I came upon that book in a Paris bookstall in April 1969 ­the 13th, I believe it was, the afternoon, it was driz­zling ‑ that I found it after searching all Europe and North America for a copy; that it is dog‑eared at pas­sages that mean more to my life than my heartbeat; that the mere touch of its pages recalls to me in a Proustian shower my first love, my best dreams. Should I mind that you seek to take all that away? That I will undoubtedly never get it back? Then even if you actually return it to me one day, I will be wiz­ened, you cavalier, and the book spoiled utterly by your mishandling? Mind?

"Not at all. Hope you enjoy it."

"Thanks. I'll bring it back next week."

"No rush. Take your time." [Liar.]

This excerpt is from Bibliomania, a one‑man show written and performed by Roger Rosenblatt and staged at New York's American Place Theatre in 1994.

Here is a great little bit of gratitude from author Christopher Morley upon his lent items being returned:

When I loaned this book, I deemed it as lost; I was resigned to the business of the long parting; I never thought to look upon its pages again. But now that my book has come back to me, I rejoice and am exceedingly glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honor, for this my book was lent and is returned again!


The worst part about lending a book to someone, in my opinion is not that you may never see it again.  It's not even that it will return to you torn or stained or chewed by toddlers or dogs.  The worst part about lending a book to someone is if they return it to you and you ask them with a quivering eagerness: "What did you think?" And for a brief moment all the cosmos of the heavens hold their breath in suspense and the world pauses waiting to hear the judgement of whether or not the new, beautiful reality has set in on this reader...  "It was okay." Comes the unmistakable slap in the face. And Atlas buckles under the weight of the world just an inch, and the heavens sigh in a chasm of despair that yet another cold, raisin -hearted individual has failed to opened anew...

Demi Binge.

Head's up on a strange sale at Amazon.  The books aren't listed as bargain books, but for some reason, five biographies (HARDBACK) by Demi are marked down to $5 each!  Get 'em while they're hot!

Marco Polo

Genghis Khan


Joan of Arc

Alexander the Great

(disclaimer: Other than Alexander... I've not read the other titles, but I love what other books from Demi we know.)

Not So Zealous?

My dear friend wrote this:

You need a blog post on devoting time to reading with children! Especially for the non-reader parents who wish for their children to love reading! Really, I find that I have so many things I could be doing in my day... We're non-stop around here, it seems. Grabbing a few books and snuggling on the couch mid afternoon is not as second nature as I wish it were. I parents did this with me exactly zero times. I grew up not enjoying reading at all. There are so many factors at play but I think that's one of them. I just can't seem to want to carve out the time bad enough. I was a lot better at it when we had 1-2 kids. We read much more frequently than we do now. The house is filled with so much chaos. Constantly, it seams... I'm struggling to just through the end of the day.tragically, book/reading time falls way at the bottom of the totem pole.

And to that I would say this:

Be free from the guilt!  If you aren't a natural bibliophile, you aren't a bad parent.  If for whatever reason, you did not grow up doing much reading, you can still impart a beautiful gift to your kids.  If sitting down and reading to a child feels like a chore... that's okay!  Here's a few brief tips for my less than bibliozealous friends:

  1. Fake it 'til you make it.  Number one thing you can possibly do is to not let on your displeasure or annoyance to the child!  When I'm not "feeling" like reading to a child, I will say simply "Okay, just pick out one story (and I've no problem vetoing long books if I'm not up for it) for tonight."  But I read it with as much gentleness and interest and love as I can muster.  The last thing we want is for our kids to pick up on stress and let story time become associated with memories of mom being at wit's end.
  2. Make time.  You have to.  It's not optional.  Being a good parent does not mean you have to feel warm fuzzies and spend hours in a treehouse together reading all the best books in the world.  But it does mean that you have to read to your child often. I truly believe that.  And I would say a few times a week, if you can't manage daily.  It doesn't have to take more than 10 minutes.  But that investment of time will pay off HUGE dividends in the end.  If it feels like a chore to you, so be it. Add it to the list right after lunch and before laundry. Somehow, make some kind of routine time for it... and remember rule #1.
  3. Read books about books.  I'm currently working on a post about the best books about books available.  Reading great literature guides and other things will help you to warm up to books in general and get excited about reading.  Look for that within the month hopefully.
  4. Stock up on audio books. While this can't replace a parent who's not interested in reading... it can help tremendously.  The biggest thing is simply having a stock on hand!  Invest in a bunch now and keep them in a place (if they're not mp3 files) where you will see them and remember to use them.
  5. Pray.  Seriously.  I think reading is so important that it's worth praying to God that He help you find the time, energy and patience to make it happen.  If a child is raised to be interested in the truth and raised with a healthy appreciation (if not love) for reading... they can always find their way back to the Truth about Him.  The vast majority of fallen-away or lukewarm Christians I know, are non-readers.  Our children will be attacked.  They will be tempted to turn from God.  Reading opens up a whole powerful arsenal they can use to equip their minds with the proper defenses and truths about what nobility is and what goodness is and ultimately, what truth is. 
  6. Don't give up!  Don't just be tempted to think, "Well, I'm no good at this.  It's a constant struggle.  I can never make it to the library. There is no time... etc." Keep plugging away at it.  Seeds will be sewn even if you can't see to buds yet...

Electric Ben!!!

Yes, we've transitioned into Springtime and yes, it's Easter and I missed out on blabbing all about my favorite Easter books because I tried to really limit my computer time during Lent.  I've been itching to share some goodies discovered and biblio-thoughts that have marinated over those 40 days but first I want to tell you all about Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin before I forget.

Benjamin Franklin is absolutely the BEST character for Revolutionary Era picture books.  His unique background and personality and lifetime accomplishments make him ripe for the memorializing... and there have been many books written about him.  So when I noticed a brand new one out by Robert Byrd, I was mildly surprised that publishers would consider any more books on Franklin. I mean, he's not exactly a novelty in the picture book world and I wasn't convinced an author could offer us anything fresh about the man.

Byrd has proved me wrong.  His book is absolutely a new essential for Franklinophiles and for students studying the birth of our nation (or electricity, or fireplaces, or printmaking, etc...).  The book is best suited for maybe ages 9 and up. It's wordy and fascinating and the pictures, though quite well done are fairly small for the most part. The book is the epitome of a living book. It could honestly be a starting spine for an entire Revolutionary era study and use all the fascinating bits of Franklin's life as jumping off points for other things. He covers science, the economy, politics, nation building, farming, weather... truly Franklin's was a universal mind.

To be fair, there a number of excellent Ben Franklin books out there. We absolutely LOVE our How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning for example. And the never disappointing D'Aulaire's Benjamin Franklin is also on our bookshelf. But there was just something really special about Byrd's new book. It was so thorough! Just so well done all around! So, take that for what it's worth. But Benjamin Franklin is the quintessential American and if it seems random to praise his books on Easter Monday, so be it.


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