Earlier this month I reported on the book that changed my life, Wayne Dyer’s first book, Your Erroneous Zones. Today I will tell of the book that made me enjoy a bit of history when I attended grammar school. I wish I could say that I continued to enjoy history after reading that memorable book, but few teachers taught it the way Robert Lawson did in the 1951 edition of Ben and Me: A New and Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin as written by his Good Mouse Amos.
When I was in the fourth grade back in the 1950s, the building predated me by some thirty or more years. The wood in the steps, paneling, and floors emitted a specific scent. When I smell old lumber today, I’m transported back to my first years in school. I can almost hear and smell the hiss of the old radiators under the large windows that sported wavy glass.
Let me digress and discuss wavy glass, sometimes called cylinder glass, a typical glass manufactured and used in buildings in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To make cylinder glass, a glassworker blew a large tube of glass. After cracking the glass off the blowpipe, the glassworker cut off the ends and slit the tube down one side. From there the sheets of glass were put into an oven, where they wilted and unfolded into a flat sheet. The result was glass with imperfections and bubbles, and if you looked through the glass and shook your head a little, objects in the distance jiggled and bobbed.
As a child I did not like school. History lessons struck me as the worst of the bunch. During lectures I distanced myself, gazed through the wavy-glass windows, nodded my head, and made trees in the distance dance and quiver.
I might not have learned a thing, if not for the school library.
Once a week the teacher released us from the classroom and gave us an hour to spend in the old library downstairs, where the aroma of wood mingled with the bouquet of paper and glue emitted from hundreds of hardback books. My sister Sandi, two years older than I was, had read and recommended Ben and Me, so I searched for it in the musty library, found it, and checked it out.
That book changed my perspective. First, I loved animals, so a book written from the point of view of a mouse appealed to me. Next, it opened history to me in a way I had never before experienced it. For the rest of my educational experience, though, I hoped to find something that would make history come alive as much as that book did. Only as an adult, when I travel to places I studied in school, do I feel history finally come alive again the way it came alive to me when I read Ben and Me.
When I talk to people born after me, Baby Boomers and others, I hear their favorite childhood books were fantasy or horror stories that entertained them but did nothing to teach them anything. What a shame! When I read Ben and Me, instead of going into some fantasyland that could never happen in real life, I learned about an important man in history and an era in America that actually took place.
I looked on Amazon today and was not surprised to see that Ben and Me has been re-released many more times since 1951 and is still in print. Way to go, Robert Lawson, Benjamin Franklin, and Amos!