Wednesday, February 8, 2012

John, Paul, George, and...Ben

I'm sure I've mentioned before how much I love Lane Smith's work. I fell in love with Lane's work at The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, his first collaboration with Jon Scieszka. Since then I've read and looked at everything that Lane Smith has done. I own most of his books and I love almost everyone. But John, Paul, George, and Ben has a special place in my heart. I giggle every time I read it. I laugh out loud repeatedly. I love the history, both pretend and real. And I love the characters.

This is really the story of John, Paul, George, Ben, and Tom. John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, that is. All the men who had a role in forming the United States. Lane imagines them as boys and shows off how their early personalities affected their later contributions. He looks at each of the men separately, mixing historical facts with invented stories. While the facts are fun, it's what Lane invents that makes this book. For example, Paul Revere used to be in the bell ringers chorus (before they invented fun, Lane comments) and because of the loud bells, he can't hear himself talk anymore. So he yells. As a store clerk in his father's store, the yelling does not go well (You need extra extra large underwear?). As a rider warning about the British attack, the yelling makes him a hero. The yelling is all invented. And is giggle inducing. And the stories just get better from there. Ben Franklin has to be my favorite (but I'll save that for you to find).

Lane Smith's illustration work is what got him his start. And he's on top of his game here. Mixing formal portraits with gross caricature, he creates a book that's both zany and beautiful. He makes the background paint look cracked to give the book an aged feel. The muted colors look faded. But the characters are what make the book. George Washington (looking a bit like Charlie Brown) has oddly cracked teeth in reference to his later need for dentures. Paul Revere has his famous tri-corner hat and a huge mouth that is always wide open. Ben doesn't yet have his famous spectacles but he's instantly identifiable. The artwork is perfect. The stories are funny and the book makes me happy. Lane even provides a section at the end with historical facts about each figure and lays to bed some of the popular myths. So I could even say it was educational as well.