J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Crankee Doodle Rides in with Electric Ben

This month brings the publication of Crankee Doodle, a new picture book by Tom Angleberger (who found fame with the Origami Yoda series) and Cece Bell (Rabbit and Robot and more). They also happen to be husband and wife.

In this book Crankee Doodle is reluctant to go to town, much less to wear a feather in his cap. His pony has all the bright ideas. Not since Kermit the Frog and Don Music has the old song been deconstructed so thoroughly.

There’s also a historical note on the “Yankee Doodle” song, and I’m pleased to say that Boston 1775 supplied some of the research material for that.

In other children’s-book news, the winner of this year’s Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for excellence in nonfiction for young readers is the picture book Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, written and illustrated by Robert Byrd. The Horn Book’s review says:

Byrd divides Franklin’s life into seventeen often whimsically labeled double-page spreads, beginning with his childhood and ending with his death. Two such spreads (“Coaxing Sparks from the Sky” and “The Wonderful Effects of Points”) deal with his fascination with electricity, with the remainder covering topics ranging from his ideas for social progress (such as a lending library and fire department) to his diplomatic roles before, during, and after the American Revolution.
About that fire department, Electric Ben says: “Franklin…formed a volunteer fire brigade. It became the nation’s first full-time firefighting force.” Franklin did indeed propose the first firefighting society for Philadelphia in the 1730s. However, he modeled that organization after a tradition in Boston that had started in 1678. And Philadelphia didn’t establish a full-time firefighting department until 1870.

But such is Franklin’s reputation for innovation, and such is the power of celebrity, that some sources cite him as the father of American firefighting.

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