Book Review of Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!

The 18th Century Secret Society never dreamed that this would happen!

This could be the perfect book. It is filled with fascinating, engaging characters, actual history, scientific concepts explained, amusing and intricately accurate illustrations, a mystery to solve, the ticking clock, an explosive climax and best of all, humor. It is officially written for children in middle grades (ages 8 to 12), but adults like it too.

In the first pages, the reader joins two men in a dark damp basement. The year is 1790 and lightning is crashing all around. One man lowers himself into a glowing blue liquid. The other throws a switch and electricity floods the room. The man in the liquid floats motionlessly.

Then we are back to today, following Victor and his best friend Scott around as they prepare for the science fair. But Victor will soon find out that something strange is happening in his basement (yes, the same basement), which will inspire a completely different science project from what he had planned. The man who is renting their basement calls himself Frank Benjamin. One day he shows up at Victor’s school nearly dead, desperately needing the boy’s help to connect the past to the present so they can find out what important emergency warranted awakening him at this time.

The illustrations are extraordinary. I stopped reading to study each detail and learned about electrical energy on our bodies, a 1918 design for a lightning rod, the Leyden casket and internal combustion engines.

I love hanging out with Victor. He is smart yet human, low-key yet completely analytical with his efficient clothing plan and his fifteen-point guidelines for finding the perfect tenant. This Ben Franklin is hilariously reckless, considering his own body to be a part of their experiments. I even enjoy the all the old ads.

The last few chapters are one big circus of heart-pounding science fair excitement and unexpected surprises. I couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t stop laughing, and couldn’t stand that the book had to end. (Luckily, there is a sequel!)

After you’ve finished the book, don’t stop there! Go to www.mattmcelligott.com for more of the same. It is definitely not your typical author website. (By the way, this uber-talented author ALSO ILLUSTRATED this book!)

If you have a science-loving student, or a science-hating student who likes to read, this is just the book for them.

Review of Fractions = Trouble! by Claudia Mills

For many third graders, math is a struggle, and fractions are trouble!  But here is help.  For homework, have them read this book.

Wilson can’t understand fractions, so his mother makes him go to a tutor every Saturday morning.  He is humiliated.  He keeps his tutor a secret from everyone.  But he is surprised that the tutor lets him draw pictures of his hamster and best friend, Pip.  And he is even more surprised that he is learning about fractions from drawing hamsters.

This lower-grades chapter book does a great job of pulling us into Wilson’s life at home with his irritating little brother, his best friend and their school science projects, and his struggles with all of these.  The author does an excellent job conveying an understanding of fractions, using simple everyday examples from Wilson’s world, and she makes the educational part of the book palatable and so entertaining, readers might not even notice they’re learning.

The relationships in the family and between friends are realistic and interesting; they are reminiscent of the ordinary siblings, parents and neighbors in the Beverly Cleary books.  Claudia Mills has a great talent for evoking our care and concern for this little boy and his brother.  What a great story.  I got so into it, I even got teary at the end!

If you want more reasons to pick up this book, take a look at the awards it has won:

An ALA Notable Children’s Book

A Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year

A Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book

Virginia Young Readers Award

If the child in your life enjoys Fractions = Trouble!, they will want to check out Claudia Mills’ book 7×9=Trouble! next.