Wendell Minor, Illustrator
Penguin, 2017 64 pages
A fictionalized vignette from his Bestselling Book Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, a Revolution, Philbrick turns his talents to young people. The Ben of the title is famed journalist and politician Ben Russell, who as a boy left school at the start of the Revolutionary War to follow the troops. He found himself cut off from his family in Boston and stayed serving the soldiers as a clerk. Ben witnessed first hand many important moments in the first year of the Continental Army, including the Battle of Bunker Hill. Four months later his father manages to escape the city to rescue him. Since the war was no place for a boy, Father places Ben in an apprenticeship with patriot newspaperman Isiah Thomas, where he learns the business and gets started on his way to his future career. An author's note at the end tells us more about this great man and separates the fact from the fiction. An artist's note directly after explains to the reader the research process involved in creating the beautiful artwork and the overall process of the artist.
Adult author and researcher, Philbrick, takes the child-friend and interesting bits from his best-selling adult book and adapts it for young readers. Even though he lived long ago, kids will identify with Russell, who is a typical rambunctious, curious, and adventurous kid. My favorite part of the account is when a group of boys complain to a British officer that by spreading ashes over the road in front of his house he made the hilly street non-conducive to sledding. Because kids will relate to Ben, they will be able to live the life of a Revolutionary War clerk during this important time period in American history. Ben is a great role-model for young people in that he was a true patriot, was not afraid to stand up for what he believed to be right, was very bold, and performed a grown-up job even though he was a boy. Philbrick also explains that there are two sides to a war and portrays the enemy as real people, who were formally friends and now find themselves on the opposite side of the issues. A perfect choice for early chapter-book readers, the print is big, the plot is linear, the margins are wide, and the layout is appealing. Minor's colorful illustrations are plentiful and can be seen on every two-page spread, sometimes taking up the whole page with no words included. A boy's eye view of the Revolutionary War and a tribute to a great American.