Students learn about Ben Franklin and bookmaking

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Dan Hampton

More than 100 students from Charter High School for Architecture + Design got a lesson in book creation last week when author and artist Tim E. Ogline visited the school to discuss his book Ben Franklin for Beginners.

The book tells the story of Franklin using humorous cartoon drawings, as well as text, to explain important events in his life.

“I was looking forward to talking to kids — as future professionals in this field — [about] what to expect, and give them a glimpse of the process,” Ogline said. “This is a long road and there’s a lot of work and planning involved.”

Ogline was invited to speak at CHAD after meeting the school’s librarian, Lisa Morein, at the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting in Philadelphia. Morein saw Ogline’s book at the conference and asked him to visit the school to talk about it.

Morein talked to Peter Kountz, head of the school, about using the book in the curriculum. Now CHAD students read different sections of it in their English, social studies, and design classes.

School principal Phyllis Santiago said 156 students will read Ogline’s book this year, along with teachers and other adults in the building.

“It’s just a phenomenal thing to see the kids excited about something and having everybody on the same page, literally,” Santiago said, “connecting self to text, and other books to this book, and other things that they’ve learned in other disciplines. It’s a really good cross-curriculum project.”

Although Ogline’s book talks generally focus more on the history of Franklin, Ogline wanted to discuss the process of creating his book because CHAD is a creative school, and students will eventually create their own projects.

“I tell my students, why wait for the perfect project to drop in your lap? Make it. Do it on your own. Invest the ingenuity and the passion into it and create your own project and bring it to market,” Ogline said.

Tim E. Ogline, author of Ben Franklin For Beginners, looks at student artwork at Charter High School for Architecture + Design (Photo: Dan Hampton) Ogline said he worked with For Beginners, a graphic, nonfiction book publisher, to negotiate his contract, then wrote and designed the book before sending them the finished package.

Ben Franklin for Beginners is targeted to students between the ages of 9 and 18, so Ogline took special care to make his research understandable for a younger audience.

“I tried to boil things down into bite-size pieces and make it digestible,” he said. "I had to parse Franklin’s life out and make history accessible and entertaining.”

Ogline said he broke the book down into categories and included a timeline at the end of each chapter.

Santiago said the book came at the perfect time, because the school now offers a graphic novels class, which she said helps attract student interest in reading.

Margaret O’Neill, who teaches classes on graphic novels at CHAD, said the talk let the kids ask questions of someone who’s been through the process. But, she said that the biggest takeaway for her students was seeing that Ogline loves what he does.

“He really enjoys his work,” O’Neill said. “Sometimes students get focused on the profession where they can make the most money, not the profession where they can have the most joy.”

Dan Hampton is an intern at the Notebook.