Listen my children
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 situationso 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.