On the colorful front cover of the latest children’s book about America’s most amiable Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin looks like some sort of psychedelic wizard. Lightning electrifies him from his frizzed-out hair on down. Within the book, author-illustrator Robert Byrd shows how lightning struck Franklin countless times in the form of innovative ideas. Whether improving on printing processes, scientific knowledge, democratic institutions or city sanitation, Philadelphia’s favorite adopted son had a “driving spirit,” which Byrd chronicles from Franklin’s humble birth to his death at age 84. Somehow managing to fit in plentiful explanatory text as well as lots of detailed, often complex illustrations, “Electric Ben” hits on the requisite well-known episodes as Franklin spurns authority, explains electricity and helps create a new nation. Byrd also includes facts that aim mainly to amuse: During the Revolutionary War, for instance, there was fear in England that while in France Franklin “would stretch a chain across the Channel and ‘shock’ Britain with one of his electrical machines.”Byrd’s illustrations are likewise packed with historically accurate details in richly imagined scenes, but he also includes small, whimsical images. In one, Franklin uses a scale to compare a turkey and a bald eagle for the role of “Representative of Our Country.” The eagle, which Franklin deemed “a bird of bad moral character,” did not get his vote.
—Abby McGanney Nolan