Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rational Results

This spring many gardens are filled with newly opened daffodils, hyacinths, primroses and tulips alongside untreated lawns covered in the golden yellow of dandelion blossoms.  Let's just suppose for a moment you woke up this morning, bucket and digger in hand, to discover all those weeds had vanished.  Wherever you look, every single inch, is missing those tell-tale leaves and buds.

While you are rejoicing in this phenomenon, the thought this is too good to be true might move through your mind.  If we were to travel back in time during the American Revolution, we would encounter another series of events taking place in Paris, France, with questionable outcomes.  Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France (Candlewick Press, March 10, 2015) written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Iacopo Bruno discusses the examination of Dr. Mesmer's work by the famous American.

While the American Revolution raged at home, Benjamin Franklin sailed to France.  His goal?  To charm young King Louis the Sixteenth and Queen Marie Antoinette.  Ben wanted them to send money and soldiers to America.

Several things caught Ben's attention upon his arrival in France.  People were cheerfully chatting about new discoveries.  Gas, hot air and electricity were top topics.  They were thrilled with Franklin's use of the scientific method during his kite experiment.  These subjects were quickly pushed into the background though by the work of Dr. Mesmer.

This man waved an iron wand said to carry an invisible force capable of creating a variety of flavors in the same single glass of water.  This force was proficient in curing whatever ailed an individual.  As you can well imagine, physicians of the day were in an uproar, reporting their displeasure to King Louie.  He, as king, needed a resolution to this quandary.

King Louie felt there was no one better able to shed light on this dilemma than his guest from America.  Putting into practice his successful approach, Franklin worked with Mesmer's assistant, Charles.  Comparisons were made between patrons' outcomes and Franklin's own to the force.  

An idea started to form.  Moving from his hypothesis to repeated tests, this man of science was able to report a surprising but well-founded conclusion to King Louie and Queen Marie Antoinette.  It would appear people needed to place more faith in themselves.  The mind does matter.

With a flair for presenting facts with engaging energy, Mara Rockliff tells the story of these events as well as including the process of the scientific method.  To further enlighten readers, she does not stop with Franklin's discovery but continues with the impact today of Dr. Mesmer's work and Benjamin Franklin's revelations.  Phrases such as

giggled at a gas...
gasped at the balloon...
gaga over...

involve readers through the use of alliteration.

Rockliff uses repetition and contrast to reinforce ideas.  The inclusion of French words takes us to the place and time in which these people interacted.  The overall feel of these combined techniques in the text is lively which is exactly how I like my history.  We need to believe these people could walk off the page or we could step into the moment with them.  Here is a sample passage.

Doctors were furious.  Their patients didn't
care about regular medicine anymore.  All they
wanted was a wave of Dr. Mesmer's wand.
                  The doctors griped---
                         and groused---
                                and fussed---
                                       and fumed.
Dr. Mesmer's force was not like electricity, a gas, 
or the hot air in a balloon, they told the king.
Non?                            Au contraire!
The reason nobody could see or touch it was...

The radiant rich red on the matching dust jacket and book case is as magnetic as the supposed force of Dr. Mesmer.  On the back, to the left, of the opened duo we see a hypnotic two-toned set of circles around the stylized capital letter m.  The layout on the front proposes the dichotomy between the two men; the one flamboyant in his presentation, the other down-to-earth in his methods.  On the opening and closing endpapers the same set of circles now in blue, yellow and teal are placed in a pattern signifying hypnosis.  In one of them is the capital letter M on a white background.  Beneath the title on the appropriate page the two men are standing on either side of The Baquet.  

Rendered in pencil and colored digitally Iacopo Bruno dazzles readers with an array of intricate illustrations ranging in size from double-page depictions to small decorative insets, bringing the past into the present.  The design of each element contributes to deft pacing.  Diverse fonts, shifting from print to script, in a variety of sizes supplies emphasis and emotional impact.

Body postures and facial expressions allude to the true personalities of the characters as well as furnishing humor.  The attention given to historical accuracy is evident.  One of my favorite pictures is the first two pages of this book.

Spanning both pages is a map with portions of North America, Europe and Africa done in muted blues, greens and browns.  A compass rose is placed in the upper left-hand corner.  There is a path traced across the ocean from Philadelphia to Paris with a schooner moving in the waves.  A squid with legs upraised is featured beneath it.  On top of Africa is a portrait of the King and Queen of France with their names in a ribbon of purple. Positioned over most of North America is the figure of Benjamin Franklin dressed in his signature attire, glasses moved to his forehead as he looks through a spyglass.  His body extends beneath the frame.  To his left is the text for this section with a Revolutionary soldier waving a flag above 1776.

Mesmerized:  How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Iacopo Bruno is outstanding; one of the best nonfiction picture books of 2015.  You will read it the first time for the narrative, the second time you will frequently pause to look at the images and the third time you will read it aloud for the pleasure of the combination of the two, narrative and images.  This is going to be a popular book with every reader.  At the conclusion of the story are pages devoted to an extensive author's note and sources.

To discover more about Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  To view an interior picture follow this link to the publisher's website.  Beneath the review at Shelf Awareness is an interview with Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno about this title. At TeachingBooks.Net are additional resources about Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno.

Please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see what books are highlighted by other participants in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.


  1. Sounds like a page-turner. I will have to hunt this book down. Thanks for the detailed review, as always.

    1. It is excellent Myra! I could read it over and over. You are welcome. Thanks for visiting my blog.