Lane Smith has been making kids (and adults) roar for years with books like The Stinky Cheese Man, Math Curse and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Now he's taking on American history in a new picture book, John, Paul, George & Ben. How might the lives of these great Americans have been affected by their childhoods, Smith wonders.
Smith's twisted lesson begins: "Once there were four lads: John, Paul, George, and Ben." In a footnote he adds that there were actually five lads, including "Independent Tom (always off doing his OWN thing)." John, we learn, was "bold." Young Mr. Hancock has an abundance of confidence and wonderful penmanship, and we see him signing his name in huge letters upon his grade school blackboard.
Paul was noisy, probably, Smith surmises, because of all the time he spent bell ringing at the Old North Church in Boston. As he helps a shop customer, young Paul Revere yells out: "EXTRA-LARGE UNDERWEAR? SURE WE HAVE SOME!" Kids will definitely be yucking it up as they learn about this "unknown" chapter in Revere's life, and as they see his eyes spinning wildly in one of Smith's hilarious drawings.
George, of course, was honest, and we learn about his famous cherry tree. Young Ben has words to the wise for every situation—so many, in fact, that he drives everyone crazy. And Tom is so independent and creative that his teacher plunks him in the corner of the classroom.
Lane brings the story home by fast-forwarding to 1775. In a wonderful spread, he shows portraits of the five grown men and relates how their "special" childhood qualities were put to work in the Revolution.
Lest you worry that this book might fill young readers' heads with ridiculous notions, Smith sets the historical record straight with an intriguing page of true and false statements at the end of the book, explaining, for instance, that George Washington did not, in fact, chop down his father's cherry tree.
I cannot tell a lie: this is one darned funny book. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Fall
With humor both broad and sly, Smith introduces the titular fab four (Hancock, Revere, Washington, and Franklin) as well as a fifth lad from the colonies, Tom (Jefferson), by defining each through a single trait and reinforcing that attribute with both historical references and funny fictional events. Back matter (titled "Taking Liberties") informs readers what's true and false in the book. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #3
In a history book that will have the stars on Old Glory spinning as it waves, Smith introduces the titular fab four as well as a fifth lad from the colonies (young Thomas Jefferson, who was "always doing his own thing") by defining each through a single character trait and then reinforcing that attribute with both historical references and fictional events. John (as in Hancock) is bold; Paul (Revere), noisy; George (Washington), honest; Ben (Franklin), clever; and Tom, independent. John, the bold boy, writes his "John Hancock" on the chalkboard in huge letters. The schoolmarm exclaims: "John, we don't need to read it from space!" Back matter (titled "Taking Liberties") informs readers that blackboards hadn't been invented then; the prescient event depicted is funny but fabricated. That's the challenge: children must read critically and not accept everything on the page as the undisputed historical record. Humor, both broad (noisy Paul shouts to a mortified customer: "Extra-large underwear? Sure we have some!") and sly (the parodies in Smith's portraits of the boys and a visual reference to the Beatles' cover of Abbey Road) reminds readers that books hold many discoveries, and quite a bit of ye olde fun. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 March #2
Despite the Beatles-reminiscent title, this offering concerns itself with not four, but five of the Founding Dads: John (Hancock), Paul (Revere), George (Washington), Ben (Franklin) and Tom (Jefferson). Each is imagined in his youth, identified by one characteristic that becomes key to his involvement in the American Revolution. John is bold, writing his name large on the blackboard; Paul is noisy, bellowing out customers' orders in his family's shop; George is honest, confessing to the chopping down of not only the cherry tree, but the whole orchard; Ben is clever, sharing his aphorisms with all who will listen; and Tom is independent, making a model of Monticello instead of a birdhouse out of "ye olde balsa wood." Smith's faux-antiqued illustrations deliver bucket-loads of zany energy, but his text lacks his sometime partner Jon Scieszka's focus. While there is a hallowed place for irreverence in children's literature, one might wish for a work that more evenly balances humor with substance. Still, this may serve as an entry point for kids who think that history is dry as dust, and "Ye Olde True or False Section" really is pretty funny. (Picture book. 5-9)First printing of 250,000; $250,000 ad/promo Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection - June/July 2006
This entertaining book tells tales about five U.S. Founding Fathers (John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) when they were young boys. For example, Smith shows how large John Hancock wrote his name on the classroom chalkboard, and how Paul Revere's bell ringing caused him to speak very loudly. Outrageous humor and language are typical of this author's books and some of the jokes do require prior knowledge of the history involved in order to fully appreciate the humor. Interesting cartoon-style illustrations, done in pen & ink on a variety of textures, make the book lots of fun. Collages are facsimiles of 18th century material and many details help support the text. The mini-portraits of the young heroes are done in oil and are modeled after the famous portraits of the grown-up characters, reproduced near the end of the book. The "Taking Liberties" page at the end of the book is a creative way to help readers understand the difference between the facts and fictions in the book. Statements are made and then a true/false verdict is rendered...in the interest of historical accuracy! Recommended. Barbara B. Feehrer, Educational Reviewer, Bedford, Massachusetts Â© 2006 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
School Library Journal Reviews 2012 September
Gr 2-5-Smith spins a few outlandish backstories for some of America's founding fathers. Why was Paul Revere so good at yelling? What did Ben Franklin's friends think of his pithy sayings? Pen-and-ink drawings combine with collage to create appropriately zany illustrations. DVD and audio version available from Weston Woods. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
School Library Journal Reviews 2006 March
Gr 2-5 -Describing each man in turn as either bold, noisy, honest, clever, or independent, and taking many liberties with the truth, Smith relates how the Founding Fathers of the title-and Jefferson, too-played a part in securing America's freedom. Hancock's penchant for sprawling his name across the chalkboard as a child led to his boldly writing the biggest signature on the Declaration of Independence. Revere's loud voice selling underwear in his shop came in handy when he had to scream "The Redcoats are coming!" Washington's honest admission to chopping down trees led to his serving as president in New York City where there were few forests. Well, you get the idea. The pen-and-ink cartoon illustrations, richly textured with various techniques, add to the fun. Page turns reveal droll surprises such as young bewigged George, axe in hand and already missing some teeth, surveying his felled orchard, or Franklin's rejoinder when the townspeople express their vexation with his clever sayings. Early American typefaces, parchment grounds, and vestiges of 18th-century life, like chamber pots and hoop toys, evoke a sense of the time. A true-and-false section in the back separates fact from fiction. While children will love the off-the-wall humor, there is plenty for adult readers to enjoy, too-the clever fly leaf, puns ("Ă¢â‚¬Â¦that bell-ringing took a toll on young Paul"), and more. Exercise your freedom to scoop up this one.-Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT[Page 214]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.