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A Literature Unit on "Ben and Me": A Colonial Pair

written by: Mildred Wilson • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 8/2/2012

Bored with the same old approach to biographies? Then, Ben and Me, will surely be a refreshing change. Using anthropomorphism as a literary device, Benjamin Franklin's life, as told by his mouse friend, Amos, is hilarious. In this Ben and Me literature unit various core learning areas are explored.

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    Anthropomorphism is the act of ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things. For centuries this technique has been used as a literary device. Most notable are the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. In his book, Ben and Me, Robert Lawson has taken this age old technique and woven a creative biography of Benjamin Franklin as told by his friend, Amos, a poor church mouse.

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    Preliminary Discussion

    Before the book is read, introduce the students to the author.

    A Brief Bio of Robert Lawson:

    Robert Lawson was born in 1892 in Montclair, New Jersey. He became interested in art in high school and after graduating, he went to the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts.

    He started out doing commercial art, illustrations and stage settings. He liked to use pen and ink. In 1921 he began to use that medium exclusively.

    He illustrated many books during his career. Among them were, Poo Poo and the Dragon, by C. S. Forester, Sword in the Stone, by T. H. White and The Roving Lobster, by Arthur Mason.

    In 1939 he wrote and illustrated Ben and Me, his first book. Some of his other books include Rabbit Hill, Captain Kidd's Cat and Mr. Revere and I. All of these used anthropomorphism as a literary device featuring a mouse, an assortment of animals, a cat and a horse, respectively.

    Robert Lawson died in 1957. His last book was The Great Wheel.

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    Reading

    Each student should have his own copy; however, this book works well as a "Teacher Read". Also, this book could be recorded ahead of time by some of your good readers and played during class sessions. In my experience I have found that students enjoy doing this and are more attentive.

    Objectives:

    Student will define and explain the meaning of the relevant vocabulary.

    Student will demonstrate listening and comprehension skills by answering questions about the book.

    Procedure:

    Using a dictionary, students will define and use each word in a sentence. Discuss work with class.

    • dressing gown
    • dormouse
    • maxim
    • succor
    • grampus
    • cur
    • vestry
    • andiron

    Read and/or listen to the story. Students will answer the following questions in written form and discuss answers with class.

    • Why do you think the author included a foreword for this book? Was it helpful or unnecessary? Explain.
    • Why do you think Amos objected to swimming? What do you think the author was trying to tell us about mice?
    • Do you think Amos was wise in renegotiating an agreement with Ben after the kite fiasco?
    • Why do you think Red, Thomas Jefferson's mouse, had some grievances against his master? How might his experiences been different from Amos's?

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    Language Arts

    Objectives:

    Student will discuss the differences and similarities between the two main characters.

    Student will demonstrate verbal and written communication skills.

    Student will produce a persuasive written argument for or against an issue.

    Procedure:

    Using a Venn chart, do a character analysis of the two main characters. Share opinions with class.

    After selecting two maxims from the book, students will write an essay as to what they mean and how they are applicable to their own lives. For example, if the student chooses "Haste Makes Waste', he would define it, loosely, as meaning that hurrying through a project without careful attention to it might result in doing it over, e.g., homework. Allow for different wording as long as the meaning is clear. Give examples.

    Ben conducted some experiments using Amos. Divide the class into two groups and debate the pros and cons of what Ben did. Each group will write a persuasive essay taking a stand for or against what Ben did. Include in the essays a comparison to the practices that are used today when experimenting with mice.

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    Social Studies

    Objective:

    Student will obtain factual information about Benjamin Franklin using the internet and/or library books and compare it to the book.

    Procedure:

    Write a report to confirm the accuracy of each of the scientific and political achievements as depicted in the biography.

    Determine if the author exaggerated any of these scientific or political achievements to move the story along. Speculate in the report as to why you think the author did that and whether or not it was effective.

    .

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    Math

    Objectives:

    Student will create a timeline of events in the book using the information gathered from the internet/and or library books.

    Student will solve math problems.

    Procedure:

    Using the information obtained from their research, the students will create a timeline of the events depicted in the book. Begin the timeline with 1745, when Amos met Benjamin Franklin, and end it when Ben and Amos parted company.

    Using the information obtained from their research and the book, the students will answer the following questions:

    1. How old was Benjamin Franklin when Amos met him?

    2. How long had Benjamin Franklin been publishing Poor Richard's Almanack when Amos met him?

    3. How long did Amos know Benjamin Franklin before he started experimenting with electricity.

    4. How old was Benjamin Franklin when Amos sailed to Paris with him?

    5. How long had Amos and Benjamin Franklin been friends when they parted company?

    (Teacher Answer Key: (1745-1706) 39 years old; (1745-1732) 13 years; (1752-1745) 7 years; (1776-1706) 70 years; (1787-1745) 42 years)

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    Extension Activity

    Objectives:

    Student will be able to recognize anthropomorphism in comic strips.

    Student will be able to analyze information and produce an essay that details differences.

    Procedure:

    Collect at least five consecutive days of Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley, Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis, and Overboard by Chip Dunham from the daily newspaper.

    Cut out each strip and paste on a plain sheet of paper. Keep each author's work together so that it can be examined as a whole.

    Answer the following questions:

    • Does the author have a message? How is it delivered?
    • Is there a continuous story, or does each strip stand on its own?
    • Does it have the usual literary elements: setting, plot, characters, etc.? If not, what's missing?
    • How is this approach different from Ben and Me?
    • Are there sections of Ben and Me that might lend itself to a comic strip?
    • Looking at the set of comic strips, what would be needed to turn the comic strips into a book? Explain.
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    Reference

    Lawson, Robert, Ben and Me, Little, Brown and Company, Canada, Republished in 1988.

    Giblin, James Cross, The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin, Scholastic Press, New York, New York, 2000.

    Websters Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Massachusetts, 1985.

    http://www.newsarama.com/comics/091105-comics-legitimate-literature.html

    Conley, Darby, Get Fuzzy, Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, Friday, April 22, 2011.

    Dunham, Chip, Overboard, Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Mi, Friday, April 22, 2011.

    Pastis, Stephan, Pearls Before Swine, Detroit Free Press, Friday, April 22, 2011.

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