Back in Time with Benjamin Franklin, A Qwerty Stevens Adventure, Dan Gutman (2005, 182 pages) is my pick for a time travel book for the Fourth. In this story, Ben Franklin pops into our current time for a visit with 13-year old, New Jersey resident Qwerty Stevens. Then, courtesy of the Anytime, Anywhere machine hidden under Qwerty’s bed, Qwerty and his friend Joey go back to Philly with him, arriving in July 1776. It looks like they’ll get to watch the Declaration of Independence being signed!
But of course time travel is never so smooth. There’s a bad guy from Qwerty’s hometown who plans to bust up the assemblage of distinguished personages ready to sign the Declaration, which would leave the country under the control of England. What’s more, he wants to steal the Anytime machine and use it for his own selfish desires, wreaking havoc throughout history. Oh, and forgetful Qwerty neglected to figure out how he and Joey would return to their own time after their Philadelphia adventure.
What can I say? I’m a huge Gutman fan. (See my review of one of his baseball card time travel books here.) I love everything about this book. I love that the main character has ADD and is not a good student, while his best friend is school focused and fascinated by history. I love that Gutman addresses a moral issue as a sub-plot in several, perhaps all, of his time travel novels, but never in a heavy-handed way. In this book, the issue is plagiarism. I loved the shock of Qwerty and Joey when they turn around to see Franklin taking an “air bath”(sitting nude) in Qwerty’s room. Franklin said a lot of clever things, and Gutman packed so many quotes in here the book is practically bursting with them. Gutman wrote another book featuring Qwerty and Joey, that was also a lot of fun. Sadly, the word is that no more Qwerty books will be forthcoming.
Okay, brain teaser time. Look at these two books.Can you spot the difference? If you look carefully, you’ll see they have different titles. Stuck in Time was published in 2002. The title was changed to Back in Time in 2005. As far as I know, it’s the same book.
Benjamin Franklinstein LIVES, Matthew McElligott and Larry Tuxbury, (2010, 121 pages) also brings Franklin to our time for a visit. As in the Qwerty book, Franklin is depicted as wise but fun-loving. In this story, Franklin moves into the apartment below that of middle schooler Victor Godwin and his mother. Ben is ill-equipped to deal with modern times so Victor helps him out. The premise in this book is that Franklin was existing in cryogenic suspension since 1790 and has just awakened. Now he is battery-powered. The amount of battery power needs to be just right:
Too much power: Ben becomes a rampaging monster. Eyes glow. Super strong! Right amount of power: Ben thinks clearly. Behaves like a normal human being. Not enough power: Ben becomes a zombie. Eats electricity anywhere he can find it.
Like Gutman’s book, this one’s funny. The humor is a little more obvious, perhaps geared toward a younger crowd. It was great to imagine Franklin in his zombie state declaring,”Hungry must eat!” and chewing on power lines. The book is enhanced by two or three humorous black and white illustrations per chapter. This book was a little more science fiction-y than Gutman’s. Not being a big sci-fi fan, I tended to skim the pseudo-science stuff. The end of this book is a setup for the sequel, Benjamin Franklinstein Meets the Fright Brothers.