Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Benjamin Franklin Children's Book Recommendations (Part 1)

  • "When the well's dry, we know the worth of water."
- Benjamin Franklin

Several weeks ago I discovered that January 17 is Ben Franklin's birthday.  This fact, coupled with our study of early American history, led me to restrict our library books to just Benjamin Franklin (and bats for science).

When I say restrict, I'm talking almost obsession.  To the point that I maxed out my library's online reservation/hold system AND my husband asked me if I really needed that many books.  Why, yes, I did! 

After wading through 25 children's books about Benjamin Franklin, we have learned that he lived a fascinating life.  Printer, scientist, inventor, post master, politician, Founding Father, ambassador, musician and author were just a few of his titles.

Most of the books I discovered are really good but they also tend to be broad biographies.  Those have their place but I wanted to read details about specific parts of Franklin's life.  That's partly why I ended up with so many books.

Because I love to learn about great children's books from other moms, I'm sharing with you my favorite books about Benjamin Franklin.  I ended up with 12 favorites so I'm dividing them into 3 different posts.  First up...

General Biography - Not quite picture books but not chapter books either.

What's the Big Ida, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz.  Illustrated by Margot Tomes.  Published by Penguin Putnam, 1976.

Fritz has written many of the "gold standard" colonial history children's books.  It tells of Franklin's life from birth to death and has excellent illustrations.


Benjamin Franklin by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire.  Published by Doubleday, 1950.  Reprinted (?) by Beautiful Feet Books.

Another "gold standard" among historical children's books.  The version I own has some colored illustrations and some black and white.  This is by design to go along with the curriculum we purchased from the publisher.  

My favorite part of this book is the short proverbs from Franklin on each page.  I think these quotes, such as "A sleeping fox catches no poultry," come from Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac.


The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin by James Cross Giblin.  Illustrated by Michael Dooling.  Published by Scholastic Press, 2000.

I love the illustrations in this Franklin biography!  The pictures almost look like photographs and capture the culture and emotions of the colonial period perfectly. 

Activity Books - Even before we started homeschooling I liked to combine books with activities and field trips.  You don't have to home school to include this kind of fun in your family activities.

Each chapter gives a snippet about a specific time or event in Franklin's life.  Also included in each chapter are "Words to Know," "Fun Ideas to Try," and actual experiments.  The experiments and activities relate to the biographical information in each chapter.  

One fun experiment I'd like to try is to turn a regular pizza delivery box into a solar oven and bake cinnamon apples.  Having our yard covered with snow for almost a month has prevented us from testing this activity but I'm sure it would work in the summer.

I will say that I don't think the title is completely accurate.  I thought the experiments would actually be Franklin's but they are not.  So in that sense the book didn't meet expectations but other than that I highly recommend it!

Benjamin Franklin American Genius:  His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Brandon Marie Miller.  Published by Chicago Review Press, 2010.

This book is similar in format to the one just above, however, I think it is targeted for slightly older students of history.  Also, the activities are not specifically related to experiments.  Both books are excellent and different enough that owning both would be fun.

Miller includes a great deal of biographical and historical detail.  I would suggest students 9 or 10 years old as a good starting point but I think the info and activities would interest even a high school student.  I'd really like to try the dipping candles activity, Franklin's father was a candle maker so learning to make candles would fit well with the narrative, but I'm afraid my little guys might get burned.  Guess I'll just have to check out this book again in a few years.

What do you know about Benjamin Franklin?

Next month's book focus: George Washington (in honor of President's Day).

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Amy said...

Thanks! I know a little boy who enjoys history and will love these books...I appreciate that you've looked through so many and made recommendations!

Looking for a field trip? Head to Philadelphia! The Franklin Institute is there...very interactive...and of course, there's lots of other early American history there, too! :)

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

Amy, I think y'all would especially like the activity books - lots of fun stuff to do and make. Not that you need more activity in your life. :) They would probably be better suited for the summer when you are looking for things to keep hands busy and out of mischief.

I would LOVE to go to Philadelphia sometime. It's definitely on my Places to Visit list!

Carrie said...

I need to keep a link to this post so that I'll remember it when it comes our turn to study Ben Franklin!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

These look like fantastic resources! I'll have to bookmark this for future reference.

Thanks, Stephanie!

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

Carrie, you can always fit a little Franklin in at your stage... maybe around the 4th of July.

Amy, I hope you like them. I love finding great children's books to use with school.

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