Thursday, October 4

So Said Ben

drawings by Michael McCurdy
Creative Editions 2007

Ben here is Ben Franklin. I love Ben Franklin. He was our first real Renaissance Man, our own homegrown Leonardo da Vinci. Smart, compassionate, witty and full of all the faults and foibles one would expect from a human, and relatively open and honest about himself.

That's Ben, though, not this book. This book, a collection of Franklin's witticisms drawn mostly from his Poor Richard's Almanac days is a remarkably ugly book. Each spread features one of Ben's sayings on the left side in large see-them-from-the-back-of-the-room letters, paragraph at the bottom in sleazy-contract-small-print that either explains or expands on Ben's life or the expression, facing a black and white scratchboard-like illustration that illuminates (sometimes in the most general and puzzling sense) the expression at hand.

"Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," is opposite an illustration of what looks like Ebenezer Scrooge shocked to find a cat and a chicken staring at him in his bead while some fresh-faced farm hand peers in the open window smiling like he just set a paper bag full of cow pies on fire on Scrooge's front step. There has to be a better way to illustrate this saying than to show an old man being harassed by farm animals -- where's the health, the wealth, where's the wisdom in this picture? Is it that the early bird gets to cruise for old men before they wake up and play pranks on them?

I'm guessing the book is for teachers who want to introduce Ben Franklin to younger audiences; that's how I read the disparity between the large type and illustrations against the small print with background. A teacher would show the spread and explain the situation or give a little history. Still, it's an ugly book and I think if I were back in the classroom I'd scrounge my own pictures and put together a better presentation before considering this book.

"A penny saved is a penny earned," was another of Ben's. No illustration necessary, save your pennies and buy a facsimile edition of Ben's Poor Richard's Almanac instead.

"Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Or so said Ben. Don't worry, it's not in the book.

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