cover image John, Paul, George, & Ben

John, Paul, George, & Ben

Lane Smith, . . Hyperion, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-4893-5

For those constitutionally opposed to history lessons, Smith (Math Curse ) profiles the Founding Fathers as the nonconformist kids they might have been. Beatles allusions, like the title, are mercifully few but well-placed ("Say , you want a revolution?" the narrator asks, referring to 1776) as Smith introduces each fellow. "Once there were four lads... Make that five lads. There was also Independent Tom (always off doing his own thing)." Paul, a boy whose penchant for loud bell-ringing leaves him with a tendency to yell, works in a shop where his voice embarrasses customers: " 'Extra-large underwear? Sure we have some! Let's see,... Here they are! Great, big, extra-large underwear!'... It took many years and a midnight ride for people to finally appreciate his special talent." Meanwhile, John has excellent, if ostentatious, penmanship. George is known for his honesty, and the cherry-tree incident gets wry treatment here. Know-it-all Ben spouts aphorisms, irritating his classmates, and Tom gets a time-out in school for refusing to build a balsa-wood birdhouse and instead using "traditional materials in a neoclassical design" (à la Monticello). In weathered shades of brick-red, parchment white and antique blue, layered with collage details from period primers and designed with Early American typefaces, Smith imagines each child's eccentric playground manners. His likenesses of famous faces and 1700s fashion invigorate textbook accounts, and he rounds off the volume with familiar oil paintings of his subjects and short captions on their actual accomplishments. The book closes with "ye olde True or False section," as hilarious as it is informative, a wonderful complement to this singular blend of parody and historically accurate events. Ages 5-up. (Apr.)