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What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?

post written by Emma Filbrun

Title: What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?
Author: Jean Fritz
Major Themes: Benjamin Franklin, Inventors, Scientists, Biography, Colonial Era (US), American Revolution, Picture Books
Synopsis: Comical drawings and a text with a dry sense of humor tell the story of a famous American in a fresh way.

Ever since I discovered them in the mid-1980s, I have really enjoyed Jean Fritz’s picture books about American history. They are a great way to introduce children to historical people in a fun way. As we work our way through the history of the United States, we are reading as many of these books as we can. One of the recent ones was What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?

The first several pages of this delightful story describe Boston in the early 1700s, and Ben Franklin’s home life. The author rather matter-of-factly describes how one of the Franklin children ran away to sea—and another ran away from his mother, and both met much the same fate. Because Ben Franklin didn’t like his father’s business, he became apprenticed to his brother as a printer. He didn’t focus entirely on this job, however; he read all the books he could get hold of and wrote a lot of items, and practiced different sorts of swimming. Then, he ran away.

After establishing himself as a printer in Philadelphia, Ben Franklin turned his attention to inventing things to make his life easier. My boys’ favorite one is the rocking chair that fanned the person sitting in it! My personal favorite is the Franklin Stove, after living in a house for awhile that was only heated by open fireplaces. The Big Idea, however, was electricity. Franklin spent a lot of his lifetime being curious about electricity and experimenting with it, in between his political activities. He spent a lot of his lifetime helping the American colonies gain freedom from England, as well! He was the ambassador to France for many years, trying to get help from the French people—and enjoying his popularity there!

Jean Fritz has a way of digging out little-known facts about famous people and working them into her stories about them in an intriguing way. I love her dry sense of humor. The pictures in this book help to tell the story, too—they are the best part of the book!

WARNING: Pages 8-9 mention and show a picture of one of the Franklin children drowning. Pages 18-19 show Ben swimming naked. Page 36 talks about a man killed by lightning while trying Franklin’s experiment to prove whether it was electricity.

Age Levels:

Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12


Links to buy What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?:

Amazon: Paperback | Library Binding

AbeBooks: View Choices on

Book Depository: Paperback | Hardcover


Benjamin Franklin, Inventors, Scientists, Biography, Colonial Era (US), American Revolution, Picture Books

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