Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd is a picture book biography that is vast in its scope. I mean, how could a life and personality as complex and varied as Benjamin Franklin’s be summed up tidily in fewer than forty pages? Robert Byrd manages that formidable task very well by dividing Franklin’s life into two-page chronological and topical “chapters.” This is a large-ish picture book, and each page is divided into halves, with text running the length of both halves and illustrations interspersed with the text. The effect is newspaper-like in appearance, and the illustrations are both colorful and plentiful and provide a story all their own. Rendered in ink-line, watercolor, and colored inks, the illustrations are detailed and interesting, with lengthy captions. I read most of this book aloud to my children, but I don’t think this is a book best read aloud; it lends itself to close study and one-on-one enjoyment. Bonus features include lots and lots of Ben Franklin quotes both on the inside covers of the book and interspersed throughout its pages, as well as extensive author notes, a timeline, and a bibliography. In Electric Ben, Robert Byrd has done a fantastic job of capturing the genius of Benjamin Franklin without skimping on the details, despite the compact format of the book. I can imagine this one being appreciated by all ages. Highly Recommended. (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012)
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This book has been nominated in the Nonfiction Picture Books category of this year’s Cybils.