Ben and Me by Robert Lawson Historical Fantasy Biography Critique and Activities for Lesson Plans
Lawson, Robert. Ben and Me. Ill. Robert Lawson. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1988 (1939).
Category: Historical fantasy; Biography
Approximate age group: Middle Elementary
Critique and Analysis followed by Activities for Lesson Plans
In his forward, Robert Lawson explains that the story told in this book was curiously found in a small room, eighteen inches square. It was found in “a manuscript book, the leaves of which, about the size of postage stamps, were covered with minute writing.” Not only was this manuscript proven authentic, but, in fact, the “officials of the National Museum of Natural History,” stated “that, incredible as it might seem, there could be no possible doubt that the handwriting was that of — a mouse!” This mouse was named Amos, inseparable friend and confidant to none other than Benjamin Franklin.
So sets the stage for this lively and adventurous story. Throughout this story, Amos invents the Franklin stove, endures Ben’s never-ending use of maxims, critiques Ben’s printing (making a few changes of his own), suffers through Ben’s enthusiasm over electricity, accompanies Ben to France, even starts a revolution of his own.
Amos mouse has a way with words. Through his pompousness and desire to be understood as the mouse behind the man, “the great Doctor Benjamin Franklin, scientist, inventor, printer, editor, author, soldier, statesman and philosopher,” becomes a silly, everyday man, letting children know that history was made by people like themselves.
Lawson played a pivotal role in defining children’s literature in the mid-twentieth century. Aside from his illustrations, which capture character and quirks with great humor and expressiveness, he is known as the father and creator of historical fantasies. He is the only figure to have won both the Caldecott and Newbery medals, rightfully so. His inventive writing combines elements of history, fantasy, and realism, in perfect combination with well-developed characters and an exciting episodic plot.
Pen and ink drawings illustrate the chapters. some are full-paged, some double, and some are art-page additions. These drawings enliven the situations they accompany, and accurately depict clothing styles of the era.
Lawson's illustrations also do a wonderful job of bringing to life some of the situations and items (for example, the Franklin stove) with which the children may not yet be familiar.
Lawson’s characteristic wit, charm, whimsical dialogue, and historical accuracy give children a wonderful tool in which to learn and enjoy themselves at the same time.
Have the children write a biography of themselves from the perspective of a pet or other animal, and draw illustrations to accompany if they choose.