Ben and Me Essay - Critical Essays

Robert Lawson


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Using animals as surrogate humans—by anthropomorphizing them—has a long tradition in literature, starting with Aesop’s fables. This tradition is perhaps even more evident in children’s literature in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with animals regularly been portrayed with human traits. Amos is thus only one in a long line of both predecessors and successors. What is unique in Lawson’s Ben and Me is his pairing of an animal—Amos, a mouse—with such a prominent historical figure as Benjamin Franklin. When the book first appeared in 1939, the author could assume that most of his readers would know something about Franklin, the “inventor” of electricity, the printer of Poor Richard’s Almanack (1733-1758), and the revolutionary war hero, and Lawson could thus build on that knowledge in his novel. Ben and Me is both highly readable entertainment and an attractive method of inculcating or reenforcing historical information in a humorous fashion.

The novel is picaresque in its approach, beginning with the first contact between Amos and Franklin shortly after the former leaves his church home to seek his fortune. The reader is led through the predictable litany of well-known Franklin accomplishments as inventor, printer, scientist, politician, statesman, and diplomat. What makes the novel more than merely narrative history is the author’s—or Amos’—claim that it is the mouse, not the man, who is...

(The entire section is 581 words.)