How Ben Franklin Stole Lightning
Ages 6 to 12
HarperCollins, 2003, $16.99, 0-688-16993-7
Ben Franklin was one of those rare people who tried doing a little of everything and managed to be good at almost everything that he tried doing. He had an insatiable curiosity about people, their problems, and the natural world. What was perhaps more remarkable still was that he was determined to try to personally solve as many of those problems as he could.
For example he saw that people had a need for books and mail delivery so he created the first lending library and he was the first to deliver mail directly to people's homes. He quickly saw that fire was a huge problem in towns and set up the very first fire department. It seemed that it was always the need of others that lay at the root of what he did, that drove him onward.
Ben Franklin did many great and noteworthy things in his long lifetime; creating institutions; serving on committees; helping to write the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; helping the United States win its war for Independence; convincing Great Britain to sign a peace treaty. And yet, Ben probably loved to invent things most of all and this was where his genius shone. Even as a boy he invented gadgets. Wanting to be able to move faster when swimming he invented swimming paddles but they were too heavy and cumbersome, so he ended up harnessing the power of the wind by holding onto a kite and letting the wind pull him along in the water. Ben went on to invent bifocals, the Franklin stove, the glass armonica, and many other devices. He also studied the weather, ocean currents, human health, and then he got interested in electricity. Out of this interest came one his most important inventions. Ben decided to pull lightening out of the sky using no more than a kite, silk ribbon and a key. His experiment worked. Using his new found knowledge Ben was able to come up with a very valuable invention which most certainly has saved many lives and a great deal of valuable property; Ben invented the lightening rod.
Perhaps the best description of Ben are the words that appeared on a medal that was given to Ben Franklin by the French Government for his services to the world: "He snatched lightening from heaven and the scepter from tyrants."
Rosalyn Schanzer has written a wonderful book which shows us not only the incredible genius that lay beneath the Benjamin Franklin's humble looking exterior, but she also shows us how modest and self effacing Ben was. The lighthearted text and cheerful illustrations reflect Ben's own often humorous personality. At the back of the book there is an "Author's Note" which provides further information about Ben Franklin describing more of his incredible achievements. The author also explains why she chose to write about his scientific accomplishments rather than his political and diplomatic ones. It is quite clear that the author has great respect and admiration, as well as a deep fondness, for the balding little man who thought so much of the needs of others and who, with a twinkle in his eye, gave so much of himself to his country and his people.
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