Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
by Robert Byrd; illus. by the author
Intermediate Dial 40 pp.
9/12 978-0-8037-3749-5 $17.99
With a jacket showing Benjamin Franklin as a cross between a mad scientist and a superhero standing amid wild lightning bolts and surrounded by all manner of electrical devices, this book shimmers with excitement, begging to be read. Byrd divides Franklin’s life into seventeen often whimsically labeled double-page spreads, beginning with his childhood and ending with his death. Two such spreads (“Coaxing Sparks from the Sky” and “The Wonderful Effects of Points”) deal with his fascination with electricity, with the remainder covering topics ranging from his ideas for social progress (such as a lending library and fire department) to his diplomatic roles before, during, and after the American Revolution. An informative, exploratory, nonpandering text (“Franklin’s expertise lay in making the most of the printed page, delighting those who agreed with him, and disarming those who did not; always keeping all parties anticipating his next move”) is set amid an attractive page layout. Nicely developed and designed spot art and larger illustrations on every page serve as internal end notes, explaining tangential information, giving more detail to certain ideas, and providing a visual record of Ben’s life and times. An author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and recommended readings complete the book. BETTY CARTER
Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building
by Christy Hale; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Lee & Low 40 pp.
10/12 978-1-60060-651-9 $18.95 g
Building — with blocks or sand, sticks or other improvisatory materials — is one of childhood’s most entertaining forms of play. Here, fifteen such play building projects are deftly rendered in mixed-media collage and paired with photos of iconic buildings that might have been inspired by imaginative children’s constructions. A toddler’s upside-down stack of graduated plastic doughnuts resembles Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum; a “pillow fort” mimics Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim. Poems describe the children’s structures: “Blankets flung, stretched chair to chair — soft roof arcs low. / A cozy place, a hideaway, / where you and I can go”; facing is Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Stadium with its enormous swooping roof, identified only — as are all the buildings and their architects — in endnotes, leaving readers free to make their own connections first. The structures include a house of cards, accompanied by a concrete poem (they “slice through space / …hold still this / moment / of / balance”), opposite an amazing German fire station that does indeed resemble a house of cards; an igloo of snowballs mirrors what is identified in the endnotes as a sample shelter for living on Mars. While lots of books show children how to play, this one suggests that “dreaming up” what to do with what’s at hand is vital to creativity: as the book’s epigraph says, “If they can dream it, they can build it.” JOANNA RUDGE LONG
Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America
by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illus. by Brian Pinkney
Intermediate, Middle School Disney-Jump at the Sun 243 pp.
10/12 978-1-4231-4257-7 $19.99
Presenting ten biographical vignettes in chronological order — Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack H. Obama II — the Pinkneys create a testament to African American males that, taken together, tells one big story of triumph (a story that, incidentally, spans American history). Each profile, fifteen to thirty pages long, includes an introductory poem, a watercolor portrait, and spot illustrations. Brian Pinkney’s illustrations are a perfect marriage of line, color, and medium and complement Andrea Pinkney’s colloquial and ebullient text. “Benjamin Banneker was born under a lucky star. Came into this world a freeborn child, a blessing bestowed on few of his hue.” Each profile is compact yet comprehensive, but since virtually all of these men were eloquent writers and speakers, it’s mildly disappointing that more of their own words didn’t find their way into the text. Still, this is an impressive accomplishment, and a worthy companion to Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul (rev. 11/11). Sources, further reading, a timeline, and an index are appended. JONATHAN HUNT