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This third week of February is a patriotic week with President's Day just past and George Washington's birthday coming up.  I thought that this is a perfect time to review two outstanding books on the subject. "Ben Franklin's Almanac, Being a True Account of the Good Gentlemen's Life", by Candace Fleming, provides a great perspective and insight to this great man and all that he accomplished during his lifetime.  This hardback book doesn't read like a normal biography because Ms. Fleming decided to break it down into the different areas, interests and subjects of Franklin's life. She has filled the pages with actual renderings drawn by Franklin, paintings, maps, newspaper headings and actual words written by Ben's own hand. This interesting layout makes for inviting and interesting reading. The chapter headings include his life as a youngster growing up in a family of seventeen children. (He was number fifteen).  The chapter about his love of writing was one of my favorites because he valued the written word and felt that his written contributions were his greatest accomplishments.  He owned and operated a printing press for his newspapers and pamphlets when he was in his twenties.  He began writing and publishing the world-renowned "Poor Richard's Almanac" when he was only twenty six. Almanacs, back in the 1700's, were very popular with the colonists because they were small and informative. They included weather forecasts and told about the changes in the tide and moon phases.  Ben decided to try his hand at publishing an Almanac, but he wanted his to be different.  So, his included jokes, riddles, poems, even words of advice.  He used it to entertain and inspire the American population. It was an immediate success.  His publications encouraged people to "work and save, but they also brought badly needed relaxation and laughter." Ben was driven to be the best that he could be and even though he only had a few years of formal education, he taught himself to be a better writer. He began writing his autobiography early in life because he had a sense that there might be some important things to pass on. Luckily, he wrote his autobiography as well as saved everything he wrote or illustrated, because he passed on the knowledge and way of life back then and his historical impact.  Franklin wrote many wonderful epitaphs that are still heard of today, for example, "There are no gains without pains"; "A penny saved is a penny earned"; "God helps those who help themselves."  He also wrote many profound inscriptions that still hold true today.  Here's one of my favorites. "If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth the reading, or do things worth the writing." Another chapter section that is both awe-inspiring and amazing that one man could accomplish so much, is the inventions chapter.  Everyone is aware of his connecting lightening and electricity.  But, what many may not know is that he was constantly inventing everywhere he went and with everything he did. (He even invented some foot contraption to keep a fan above his head moving as he sat in his favorite chair.)  Following is a list of just a few things he invented, discovered or developed:  a musical instrument called the glass harmonica; the electrical generator; wood-burning stoves; the warm and swift moving gulf stream; prehistoric animals and his accurate theory of why they vanished; and, of course, bifocals.  He even figured out how people caught colds and various other sicknesses before germs were ever heard of. He established the first public library and hospital for the common man. As you can see, he held a huge variety of interests and his list of accomplishments seems to go on and on. Perhaps the most powerful and convincing chapter of his life helped form America.  Ben Franklin was completely involved in trying to prevent the Revolutionary War, but once England began to tax the colonists, Franklin saw what was inevitable.  He helped Jefferson with the writing of the Declaration of Independence and added the famous words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident." His involvement throughout this treacherous time for the developing American country was invaluable. If you aren't already inspired by this amazing man who was always searching for ways to make life easier and better for his fellowman, you will be after reading this remarkable book. There's a quick outline of his life at the beginning of the book and very helpful resources that include more books about his life for young readers, as well as web sites.  Ms. Fleming has written a book that all ages, 10 through adult, will find edifying and enriching!

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Have you ever wondered what the White House would be like to live in? Or what it really looks like from inside? Or what it was like when different Presidents lived there? "The White House: An Illustrated History", by Catherine O'Neill Grace, will give you the sense of life in this American landmark.  There are fold-out pages enabling the reader to truly get a grasp of this magnificent edifice. The first fold-out gives a remarkable glimpse into the past as you look upon a city of vast amounts of open spaces with the capital sitting upon a hill back in the 1800's.  Another fold-out shows a close-up of the oval office and the President's famous desk. The chapters start with the history of building the President's Home. The next chapter gives the readers a real sense of what it's like to work there.  Chapter three covers the celebrations which include the famous Easter Egg Roll, Christmas, and State dinners.  Chapter four gives the reader a room by room tour and the concluding chapter shows life with different Presidents in informal settings.  I especially liked reading about every President's feelings and additions to the White House at the back of the book. This is a must read for ages 8 through adult!