Saturday, June 29, 2013

It's Alive! Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!

Pin It Now! Phew. I finally finished a novel unit I've been planning in my mind for 2 years. It just had to be done because the book is fantastic, probably the most clever, humorous book I've read in a long time.

2011-2012 Texas Bluebonnet Award Winner
Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! by Matthew McElligott and Larry Tuxbury is a wonderfully funny and very smart novel about a boy named Victor and his strange new downstairs neighbor...who turns out to be Benjamin Franklin...who has just been awakened from suspended animation by a lightning storm. The story follows Ben's attempt to locate the Prometheans, a secret society he helped to form during his "early days" more than 200 years before. The Prometheans were named for the Greek Titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind, which in turn, allowed them to gain power and build civilizations. (Prometheus was also punished by Zeus with eternal suffering and daily death, specifically, having his insides pecked out by an eagle every day). Like their namesake, the Prometheans have also discovered a life-changing secret, which is that of immortality. Franklin volunteered to test their knowledge by allowing himself to be put to sleep in a Leyden casket until such a time that a great crisis arose. A Custodian was placed in charge of monitoring the experiment, and the descendants of that Custodian would continue to do so as time went on.

Enter Victor Godwin in the early 2010s. Victor is a serious student currently working on his science fair project, which he has calculated to have a high percent possibility of earning an A. He is so focused that he wears the same outfit everyday so that he doesn't have to waste any brain power choosing something else. His downstairs neighbor, Mr. Mercer, a custodian, has recently passed away. One night, after a powerful lightning storm, Victor sees some strange things outside his window, including a bear-like shadow that is sparking. His mother rents Mr. Mercer's basement apartment to strange man resembling Benjamin Franklin who is dressed in colonial garb and pays his rent in gold doubloons. (If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck...) Upon investigating his new neighbor, Victor stumbles into a secret laboratory underneath the basement, and after saving Franklin from electrocution, the Founding Father tells Victor the secret of the Prometheans and his re-animation.

Ben is now faced with the problems of not knowing where his Custodian is, fixing a potentially broken electrophone, which is the device on which the Prometheans will contact him, and running out of energy. The most pressing of the problems is Ben's low energy, which causes him to go on a rampage in the streets of Philadelphia chewing through any electrical wiring he can find. During this rampage, Victor loses track of Ben and returns home to research the Prometheans. He finds a strange connection between them and the books left behind by Mr. Mercer in the basement apartment. Ben appears at Victor's school the next day, clumsy and groggy, and Victor manages to deflect attention from the strange old man by encouraging his goofy friend, Scott, to show off his potato battery, which ends up exploding on local TV.

To avoid future feeding frenzies, Victor, a fellow scientist, puts together a MacGuyver-esque battery belt for Ben that sends a text message by which Victor can monitor Ben's energy levels. Meanwhile, Ben decides to search for the Prometheans at Philosophical Hall, where he and other great minds of the American Philosophical Society once collaborated. Using a secret passage in which Thomas Jefferson himself created a booby trap, Ben attempts to make his way to the secret sanctuary of the Prometheans, only to find that it is a cafeteria filled with school children touring the building. Finding a disappointing dead end there, Ben buys a Philly cheesesteak sandwich from another Benjamin Franklin outside of the historical building and is ready to throw in the towel.

Victor doesn't want to let him down...doesn't want to let history he agrees to help Ben find the Prometheans if Ben will help him reconstruct his science fair project, a volcano that Ben destroyed after tinkering with it earlier. At the science fair, mayhem is foreshadowed as Ben is mesmerized by Scott's new-and-improved Potato Battery 2000 and emits sparks as he reaches to touch the solution in which the potatoes rest. Meanwhile, Victor's Franklin-inspired volcano has trouble of its own, as it refuses to stop pouring lava. Burping, sparking, fire, lava, and smoke all conspire to cause disaster at the science fair.

After escaping the gym, Victor reflects on the catastrophic events of the fair but has a changed attitude about taking risks and failure. As Benjamin once told him, "I've learned more from my failures than successes." He accepts that he won't get an A, and he's much kinder to his intellectually inferior friend, Scott. Ben ends up rescuing Victor's classmate's dog, and Ben and Victor reunite outside of the school. Is this the great crisis Ben was awakened for? Perhaps not. In the Epilogue, through the static comes a voice over the electrophone....

Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! connects to so many other topics--history, science, mythology, 18th century literature. It's a great "thinking" book. The illustrations are helpful and humorous, and the diagrams do a fabulous job of explaining how all the contraptions referenced in the book work. Even I could understand them, and you're talking to a girl who broke every piece of lab equipment in her Chemistry class! PLUS, specially placed advertisements for the Modern Prometheus Bookstore throughout the book encourage readers to visit the bookstore's Web site, where they can try to unlock the secrets of the Custodians.

I thoroughly enjoyed not only reading and re-reading the book, but also coming up with the activities and extensions for the book as well. One of my favorites is called Finding Franklin in Frankenstein and Prometheus, which shows the connections among Ben Franklin, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Prometheus. I just love the richness of historical, cultural, and scientific references in this book. Such a fun way to learn. DEFINITELY well worth the read and sharing it with students (grades 4-7). There are even two sequels out. Are you ready for the titles? Benjamin Franklinstein Meets the Fright Brothers and Benjamin Franklinstein Meets Thomas Deadison.

Come check out my novel unit now available at TpT!


  1. Hi Kristen,

    So glad to hear you enjoyed the book! Larry and I had a lot of fun writing it. We have a lot more information on my website, including a page all about the real locations in Philadelphia where much of the book takes place:

    Also, be sure to take a close look at those bookstore advertisements that are scattered throughout the book. There might be more there than meets the eye...

    Matt McElligott

    1. Wow! What a thrill to have you visit my blog and comment, Matt! Yes, there's definitely more than meets the eye if the reader takes close notice of the ads. Just another reason this book is so appealing to young readers. I'm looking forward to reading Thomas Deadison next. Thanks for stopping by and for the extra info!

      All the best,

  2. Replies
    1. For sure! It's a quick read,, read it in a day if you let yourself. :)

  3. Ditto, regarding Matt's message!

    -Larry Tuxbury

  4. Hi, Larry--I'm so excited that you stopped by my blog! Thanks for the visit and for a wonderful book to share with my students


  5. I did not find the novel unit for this book on TPT...any help?

  6. Sure! Copy and paste this link:

    Thanks for your interest!


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