If you've ever waded in a fresh water lake especially in the shallows at the right time of year, schools of minnows will swarm around your feet. They scoot and scatter in a flash. Unlike them we can only swim under water for a short time. Ben Franklin's Big Splash: The Mostly True Story Of His First Invention (Calkins Creek, September 1, 2014) written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by S. D. Schindler introduces readers to something I'll bet they never knew about this man. His creativity lead to making swimming on and under water more like fish for all of us.
Before the world knew the famous Doctor Benjamin Franklin, his neighbors knew him as Ben, the sturdy, saucy, smelly son of a soap-maker---the boy who, on sweltering summer days, snuck away from stirring soap vats and snipping candlewicks in his father's shop to head straight for the river.
Today no one, particularly in the northern Michigan town where I reside next to Lake Michigan, would give this activity a second thought but in Boston when Ben was a boy this was viewed as strange behavior. Water was for water creatures and water plants not people. Swimming was thought to contribute to illnesses.
Contrary to popular belief Ben kept right on swimming. He was as healthy as the proverbial horse. There was something about being in the water, floating along, that made his thinking clearer. His minded wandered as minds will do, daydreaming about his future and immediate circumstances. One day young Ben asked himself,
Why can't I swim like a fish?
Perhaps he compared himself to the fish he noticed when swimming. Sketching and working with wood at the shop, he fashioned himself a pair of fins for his hands. I wonder what people thought when they saw Ben wearing those funny paddles as he dove into and moved around in the water. Ben's thirst for finding the right way to move when swimming was not quenched yet, there were kinks to correct.
From the shop he walked to the river again; carrying this time four items, two paddles for his feet and two paddles for his hands. If people thought Ben looked odd the first time, they must have shook their heads to see him the second time. Was it a complete success? To Ben every attempt was a success; every attempt was a chance to get better. Lucky for all of us, he never stopped.
Barb Rosenstock is no stranger to research and familiarizing her readers with information about persons of history frequently left out of textbooks. I've read and talked about her titles on Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, Thomas Jefferson, Joe DiMaggio and Wassily Kandinsky. For this book she provides us with an author's note, a timeline of Benjamin Franklin's life, extensive sources, and source notes.
Throughout the narrative we are privy to gathered original quotes of Ben Franklin; each tied directly to Rosenstock's telling of this specific invention, his first known innovation. Her writing style here is captivating replete with the use of alliteration. Words describing each day's swim and work in the shop begin with the letter s. More than once words are repeated bringing a spirited cadence to the tale. Here is a sample passage.
Ben SPRINTED straight to the river,
STOOD on the bank,
STRIPPED OFF his clothes,
STRAPPED his feet into the sandals,
STUCK his thumbs back in the swim fins,
SPREAD his arms wide,
STOMPED his feet, and SPLASHED IN.
Rendered in ink and watercolor S. D. Schindler compliments the effervescence found in Barb Rosenstock's words with his illustrations. The splash seen on the front is duplicated on the back of the matching dust jacket and book case. I really like the design of placing Ben as the letter i on the front with the duck, fish, turtle, fish and his dog as a part of the water. On the back an otter is shown in addition to fish, a frog and a duck. In the center of the splash is a quote.
LET THE EXPERIMENT BE MADE.
The golden brown of the paddles supplies the color for the opening and closing endpapers.
To contribute further to the text Schindler alternates his illustration sizes shifting from double-page spans to single pages to a series of smaller pictures grouped together to match the story's pace. The layout of the images with the text flows beautifully. A color palette favoring blues, greens, and browns with fine black lines accentuates the time period and natural surroundings where Ben swims.
Two of my favorite series of illustrations are of Ben swimming and then Ben thinking about duplicating a fish's swimming in water as he swims. In the first Ben matches the movements of a duck seeking food, an otter gracefully swimming, and a turtle slipping from a log. In the second he is studying each aspect of fish; their shapes, fins, bellies, tails, and noses.
I know readers are going to enjoy learning when reading Ben Franklin's Big Splash: The Mostly True Story Of His First Invention written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by S. D. Schindler. The tempo of the narrative combined with the illustrations is as buoyant as floating on a summer's day in your favorite swimming hole and as much fun as drenching everything and everyone is sight as you jump into the water. This is definitely a book to include in your classrooms and libraries.
Please follow the links embedded in Barb Rosenstock's and S. D. Schindler's names to access their websites. Each has more information about their other work. Enjoy the book trailer below.
I am well aware that technically this book is considered historical fiction but Barb Rosenstock has included a significant amount of back matter for readers.
I am thrilled to be participating in educator Alyson Beecher's 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy. More participants are featured there today. Please stop by to see what titles they are highlighting.