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Early/Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Humor, LOVELACE Nominee 2014-15, Read-Aloud Suggestions

BENJAMIN FRANKLINSTEIN LIVES! by Matthew McElligott and Larry Tuxbury…a LOVELACE Division I nominee

benjamin franklinstein livesThe prologue of Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! shows us a creepy chamber in which the famous Benjamin Franklin has bolts fastened to his neck (like Frankenstein’s Monster) and is submerged in a coffin-like tub of gooey green liquid.  We watch as he drifts into a coma state with his Caretaker from The Prometheus Order (a secret society) standing by.  It will be the Caretakers’ job through the years to keep Franklin’s body safe and wake him when he is needed in the future.

Then we switch to the current time and the story of Victor Godwin, a young boy consumed by his interest in science and his commitment to keeping his life extremely organized.  When the empty apartment on the lower level of the Godwins’ home is rented by Mr. Benjamin, Victor is suspicious; something about Mr. Benjamin doesn’t feel right to him.  When he hears strange, loud noises coming from the apartment Victor enters to confront the new tenant.  There he discovers a secret door, to a secret stairway which leads to a secret room.  In that room–you guessed it!–he discovers Benjamin Franklin on top of a large glass and metal box holding wires and cables with active electric current pulsing through them.

In an effort to keep Franklin from being electrocuted Victor interrupts the electrical circuit and realizes he is, in fact, in the presence of the real Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin is confused that Victor is not from The Prometheus Order and cannot determine why he has been awakened in the future; what problem is he supposed to help solve for humanity?

From here the story is predictable, but still fun for young readers.  Franklin is exposed to the 21st Century and is fascinated to see the extraordinary advances in science, technology and lifestyle since the 1700s.  He accidentally destroys Victor’s painstakingly constructed volcano project for the School Science Fair.  Apologetic, Benjamin helps Victor create a new volcano project which winds up being a spectacularly funny disaster at the Science Fair.

As the first book in a series, Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! has to set up the circumstances and premise for the rest of the series and so it spends little time on character development.  We don’t really get to know Victor’s character too deeply and there is no real historical or personal information interwoven with Benjamin Franklin’s character other than his name.  Scott, Victor’s classmate and the son of the local TV Weatherman, appears all too briefly throughout the story but has the potential to be a funny, engaging character.

There are moments of silly slapstick humor sprinkled expertly throughout the story which will appeal to its young readers.  Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! will be a popular choice among the Grades 3-5, the Division I readers for the Maud Hart Lovelace nominees.  It is a short, easy, funny read.  It would work well as a read-aloud in 2nd or 3rd Grade either on its own or in conjunction with American History or electricity/science units.  Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! also shows promise for developing character and plotline in the next books in the series:  Benjamin Franklinstein Meets the Fright Brothers and Benjamin Franklinstein Meets Thomas Deadison.

For older readers (Grades 3-7) who are interested in the time travel aspects of historical characters I highly recommend Dan Gutman’s Qwerty Stevens Back in Time series.  the first volume involves meeting Thomas Edison and the second, Benjamin Franklin.  These books are the next step up in language, character and storyline–but remain fun and engaging.

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