Recently, while putting together a presentation on what’s new in children’s literature, I realized I really like the narrative nonfiction written by Mara Rockliff. Some of her books are illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, and the pictures fit the books perfectly. Today I read Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin solved a mystery that baffled all of France.

When the American colonists realized that they needed help to win the Revolution, it was decided that Ben Franklin would travel to France to ask King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette for help. Franklin was quite famous for his electrical experiment with the kite in the lightning storm.

When Franklin arrived, a new sensation was sweeping through Europe. Dr. Mesmer was using a force he called animal magnetism to heal people and King Louis as Ben to investigate. Mesmer’s assistant agreed to meet with Ben to show him how it worked. Ben used the scientific method and hypothesized that what the patients felt was caused by their own minds, not an invisible force.

Ben and a team of scientists blindfolded patients of Dr. Mesmer to see if his hypothesis was correct. He found that if patients believed something would happen, something did — even without the force (animal magnetism). If the patient did not expect anything to happen, nothing did — even with the force.

Ben had proven Mesmer was a fraud, though Mesmer should get credit for discovering the placebo effect. 

I especially liked the way that Rockliff pointed out each step in the scientific method. She reinforced the logical way that Ben Franklin was able to make such big changes in our world. Bruno’s artwork is lovely. I really like how he drew Marie Antoinette.

I think this is a story about Franklin that should get as much coverage as the kite experiment. He really contributed a lot to the world of science.


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