Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos

11May10

Discovered, Edited and Illustrated by Robert Lawson

Ben and Me is captivating cross between historical fiction and fantasy. On the front cover, the reader realizes they are in for something unique when the author is attributed as “discovering, editing, and illustrating” the book, but not actually writing it. In the book’s opening, Lawson includes a fictional author’s note that describes how he came to find a miniature manuscript (with confirmed mouse handwriting!) of the tale we are about to read that was written by Benjamin Franklin’s mouse accomplice Amos.

After this opening author’s note, Amos takes over the telling of the story. We quickly discover that Amos was a big part of Franklin’s successes through his advice on social and political matters, assistance with inventions and experiences, and constant companionship. In fact, Amos goes as far and to be as bold to suggest taking a majority of the credit in some of the anecdotes he describes.

Although told with a fictionalized fantasy twist, the book still includes some of Franklin’s most notable moments in his career,  including invention of the Franklin stove, his experiments with electricity and lightning, the formulation of the Declaration of Independence, America winning the Revolutionary War, and his other writing and printing endeavors.

The integration of Franklin’s famous maxims that we are familiar with from sources like his Poor Richard’s Almanac are integrated throughout the story in a very humorous light. For example, Amos scolds Franklin for his apparent hypocrisy: “Here we have maxims for breakfast, dinner and supper. Have they molded your life? EARLY TO BED AND EARLY TO RISE, MAKES A MAN HEALTHY, WEALTHY AND WISE. Bah! When have you ever been to bed early, or risen early, except when you had insomnia?” (p. 32).

I like that this book portrays a new perspective of this ingenious historical figure – ironically, it takes the perspective of a mouse to see the human side of man who’s accomplishments and intellectual endeavors are overwhelmingly impressive. Amos reminded me of a Jiminy Cricket with a lot more sass and quick-wit about him. Amos writes, “Ben soon became so dependent on my advice that he seldom ventured abroad without me. The fur cap, which formally he had used only in inclement weather, he now wore constantly, indoors and out, doffing it only in the privacy of our own room. This, of course, attracted no little attention, but Ben always enjoyed that” (p. 22). I love the use of “attracted no little attention” from the above excerpt. I think it helps to characterize Amos as extremely sharp-witted, while also letting us know that Mr. Franklin was no modest-mouse himself.

This book would be a good complement to a social studies curriculum that included the life and accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin, allowing children to work at separating the elements of fact and fiction and studying Lawson’s skillful use of perspective.

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