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The Children's Bookshelf: The Leather Apron Club - September 27, 2021


The Leather Apron Club: Benjamin Franklin, His Son Billy and America’s First Circulating Library written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Wendell Minor is a charming picture book based on Colonial times in Philadelphia where the printing press, Poor Richard’s Almanac and books were taking hold.

William Franklin, known in this book as Billy, tells this delightful story all about growing up and playing all day with his cousin until his Pappy, Benjamin Franklin, decides the boys need to get serious about their studies. He arranges a tutor for them by the name of Theophilus Grew. Billy complains, “It means memorizing great lists of Things we will never use again like the names of England’s Kings and the dates of long-ago Battles.” But his father answers “no gains without pains” straight from his Poor Richard’s Almanack.

Fortunately, young Billy enjoys his tutor’s love of books and the fact that he reads classic tales aloud to them in a deep voice that causes Billy to be able to see the pictures in his head. Alas, his cousin is bored but Billy is hooked on books! This leads Benjamin Franklin to introduce his son to a very special library.

The Leather Apron Club: Benjamin Franklin, His Son Billy and America’s First Circulating Library is a beautifully told story by Jane Yolen with gorgeous watercolors by Wendell Minor. It is designed for readers 7-10 years of age who will surely enjoy the Colonial setting and the wisdoms from Poor Richard’s Almanack that are sprinkled throughout the book (Charlesbridge, 2021).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org  

Activity Questions for Leather Apron Club

Older Readers: The author has delightfully placed 12 or so quotes from Poor Richard’s Almanac throughout this picture book. Go back and read those quotes as well as the author’s notes in the back material about the history and the scope of the almanac. Take a second look at the placement in the story of the following quote from the almanac: “He that lies down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas.” What does it mean? Write a paragraph explaining this wisdom as you understand it.

Younger Readers: Take another look at the beautiful illustrations in this book and find the following: a printing press, a leather apron, two boys running off for some fun, a beach, tall ships, a kite, an ink stand, Master Grew, a map, a desk globe of the world and a sleepy Billy.

Who turned Billy on to books? What role did his father play? What role did his tutor play? Who turned you on to books? What is your favorite book and why?

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.