Ye Olde John, Paul, George & Ben

by Derrick G. Jeter

I love books. My attitude is the same as Thomas Jefferson’s: “I cannot live without books.” [1] In fact, my love affair with books has sometimes caused my love affair with the love of my life to receive a cold eye from her. But she’s understanding and quick to forgive—at least until she sees another book stuffed into my already over-stuffed library. The truth is, my little office is overflowing with books. But I contend that nothing worth reading has ever been written in a large room stripped bare of books. I don’t know if that is true exactly, but neither does my wife . . . and that’s the way it should be.

The books I love the most are old and musty smelling. I love history, especially American history, and biographies and anthologies of speeches and essays and philosophies and works of theology and Bible and the classics. And I love books for children, particularly if they are illustrated. I don’t mean the kinds of children’s books that are for ages ten and up; I mean real children’s books, for ages three to five. These are the best. And when the illustrations are creative and the writing is witty, reading one of these treasures brings a moment of pure joy.

Combine wit and interesting illustrations with American history and I’m like a hooked trout. All you need do is reel me in. This was the case with Lane Smith’s wonderful book, John, Paul, George & Ben—and he doesn’t mean the Beatles, with the little known backup drummer for Ringo. He means the founding fathers. This is from the front flap:

Once there were four lads . . . John [Hancock], Paul [Revere], George [Washington], and Ben [Franklin]. Oh yes, there was also Tom [Jefferson], but he was annoyingly independent and hardly ever around.

These lads were always getting into trouble for one reason or another. In other words, they took a few . . . liberties. And to be honest, they were not always appreciated.

This is the story of five little lads before they became five really big Founding Fathers. [2]

Throughout the book we follow these five lads on many misadventures in colonial America. Some of the facts in the story are true and some are . . . well as Smith puts it: he’s “Taking Liberties.” But no matter, he includes a historic summary of each man’s life and a delightful true/false quiz at the end to set the record straight. He wouldn’t want your little American to get their history wrong.

John, in school, always wrote his name so large that spacemen could read it. Paul was a bell-ringer and had to yell just to hear himself talk, which didn’t please the customers who came looking for large underwear in the shop where he worked. Of course Paul’s big mouth worked out when he got a little bit older and could ride a horse. Then there was George, who not only cut down his daddy’s cherry tree, he cut down a whole forest. And Ben? Well, Ben just didn’t know when to stop giving people advice—so they told him. Finally, there was young Mr. Tom who never quite followed his teacher’s instructions precisely. He was simply too independent for that.

Fun and funny, John, Paul, George & Ben will help your little lads and lasses, as they chuckle their way through each page, learn something important about these great men. After all, learning is better with a little laughter—don’t you think? And don’t worry mom and dad, you’ll love it just as much as the kids. Smith says this book is for “Aged 5 to just plain aged”—I don’t know about you, but that fits me to a tea!

[1] Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1815,, accessed May 2, 1010.

[2] Lane Smith, John, Paul, George, & Ben (New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2006), front flap.