John, Paul, George and Ben


Written and Illustrated by Lane Smith

Hyperion Books, 2006

Once there were four lads:  John, Paul, George and Ben.*

*Make that five lads.  There was also Independent Tom (always off doing his OWN thing.)

The plot in a nutshell:  This book shares some background information on the fathers of the American Revolution.

I am stepping away from our dog theme today, because this outstanding book is a perfect choice for the 4th of July.  It’s chock full of information about John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but don’t get the impression you’re in for a dry history lesson here.  This is one of the cleverest and funniest books I’ve read.  You know you’re in for something special the moment you see the picture on the introductory page, with the ‘four lads’ drawn in the Beatles’ classic Abbey Road pose.

Thomas Jefferson really did have a teacher named Mr. Douglas.  I imagine that house wasn't real, but you never know with Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson really did have a teacher named Mr. Douglas. I imagine that house wasn’t real, but you never know with Jefferson.

Author/illustrator Lane Smith tells us a little about each of these great men, and frames the facts with really humorous fiction.  For example, Paul Revere was in a bell-ringing club at the Old North Church, which affected his hearing and caused him to speak very loudly.  This was a problem in his shop, where he is shown shouting to a hefty female customer that, yes, they do carry extra-large underwear.  But, of course, that loud voice came in handy when he took his famous midnight ride.

A page in the back of the book clarifies which parts of the book are true and which have been fabricated.  Bell-ringing club, true.  Underwear for sale in the Revere silver shop, false.  (But Mr. Smith does note that extra-large underwear is always funny.)  The artwork here is excellent, using a combination of pen-and-ink drawings on textured surfaces to create pictures that have that classic Colonial feel.  On the first page of each character’s section, he’s drawn them as a child in the same pose as their official portraits, which are featured near the back of the book.  Altogether, this one should be on the bookshelf of anyone who values the pursuit of happiness.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that our country is awesome because these great men worked hard to make it so.  Happy Independence Day!


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