Fleming (Gabriella's Song) offers a piquant retelling of a story that master raconteur Benjamin Franklin relayed "to heal the hurt pride" of Thomas Jefferson, whose draft of the Declaration of Independence was being picked apart by the quibbling Continental Congress. In this tale within a tale, a hatmaker drafts copy for a sign for his shop. En route to the sign maker, however, he encounters a string of opinionated people who whittle away his words to, quite literally, nothing. Young readers will easily appreciate the irony of the kind sign maker's suggestion that the hatmaker fill his sign with the very proclamation he began with. Franklin concludes, "No matter what you write, or how well you write it, if the public is going to read it, you can be sure they will want to change it." Working in ink and watercolor, Parker (Pop Corn and Ma Goodness) contributes his sketchy style, a deft approach that focuses on Franklin's wit rather than his more serious message. And like the beleaguered hatmaker, Fleming has chosen her words with care, delivering an insightful parable and a welcome addition to the wealth of lore surrounding the remarkable Benjamin Franklin. Endnotes include further information about Franklin, Jefferson and the writing of the Declaration of Independence; like the story, they will whet readers' appetites for American history.
- Trina Heidt
Thomas Jefferson had just presented his version of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress. He was sure that they would love it. When he was finished, the Congress broke into a great buzz and immediately began changing what Jefferson had thought was the perfect document. A saddened Jefferson sat alone as Congress argued until a friend, who saw his sadness, came to him and said "Tom, this puts me in mind of a story." That friend happened to be Benjamin Franklin and he told Jefferson the story of a young hatmaker, John Thompson, who was just starting his business and trying to come up with the perfect sign to represent it. On his way to have the sign made, John passed many people, each of whom had a suggestion for revising his sign. When the revisions were done, all that was left was a confused John Thompson and a blank sheet of paper. The point Franklin wanted to make was that revision is a part of the writing process. No matter what you write and no matter how wonderful it is, if the public is going to read it they will all have ideas for changes.
School Library Journal
This delightful tale will be a boon to classrooms studying Colonial America and the emergence of the United States government, but it has a much broader audience as well. Culled from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, it's a masterful retelling of a parable Benjamin Franklin whispered to calm Jefferson's anxiety during the debates over the Declaration of Independence. The story relates the plight of a Boston hatmaker trying to create a sign for his new shop. The original draft consists of 10 words and a picture of a hat. The hatmaker's wife suggests the removal of three words. Then the reverend reads it and suggests that three more words be eliminated, and so on, until the hatmaker is left with just the graphic image. More well-wishers suggest the addition of a word or two until the merchant's original draft is restored. This humorous tale ends with Franklin assuring Jefferson that anything offered to the public is subject to criticism. More importantly, the parable provides insight into how documents are changed by the input of various opinions. An author's note gives more information on Franklin's love of storytelling and Jefferson's distress over the 87 changes the Continental Congress made to the Declaration of Independence. Parker's full and often double-page watercolor illustrations capture the ambiance of colonial Boston, the annoyed Jefferson, and the soothing Franklin. They are sophisticated enough for older children, yet have plenty of appeal for younger ones, too. Jackie Hechtkopf, Talent House School, Fairfax, VA
According to the author's note, Benjamin Franklin, "inventor and states-man, scientist and printer, postmaster and patriot...was also a grand storyteller." Perhaps the most significant application of this talent came in response to Thomas Jefferson's discouragement after the Continental Congress changed his carefully selected words and phrases for the Declaration of Independence. To soothe the writer's injured pride, Franklin tells his friend a story about the Boston hatmaker who, seeking consensus for the design of a sign for his shop, eliminates one word or symbol after another at the behest of those consulted until he is left with a blank surface. Fortunately, the signmaker offers a solution-which proves to be the hatmaker's original idea. Franklin concludes that "no matter what you write, or how well you write it, if the public is going to read it, you can be sure they will want to change it." Based on an anecdote in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Franklin's story has a folktale-like quality that lends itself to being read aloud. Despite some vagaries as to Boston geography, Robert Andrew Parker's illustrations should not be overlooked. His distinctive style-energetic, expressive fine lines combined with an impressionistic use of watercolor-gives dimension to the characters and a sense of times past. A handsome double-page spread on the title page captures the lurid flamboyance of a harbor sun-set with rich intensity, serving as a dramatic counterpoint to the pages that follow. A fine piece of historical fiction for younger readers, The Hatmaker's Sign is also a cautionary tale for writers-and critics!
Thomas Jefferson was feeling stung. The Continental Congress was demanding that he rewrite sections of his Declaration of Independence. Replace this, cut that, the delegates urged. Smoldering, Jefferson took a seat: "I thought my words were perfect just the way they were," he muttered. Hoping to soothe his friend, Ben Franklin quietly told him the parable of the hatmaker, who had designed a sign for his shop: "John Thompson, Hatmaker, Fashionable Hats Sold Inside for Ready Money." After his wife, Hannah, suggests one phrase be deleted, Thompson shows his revised design to others, each of whom has another cut to suggest. Thompson appears at the signmaker's shop with a blank piece of paper. Puzzled, the signmaker suggests: "John Thompson, Hatmaker, Fashionable Hats Sold Inside for Ready Money." "So you see, Tom," concluded Ben. "No matter what you write, or how well you write it, if the public is going to read it, you can be sure they will want to change it." Grander than the story itself is its basis in real events, and Fleming (Gabriella's Song, 1997, etc.) fleshes out the particulars in an excellent author's note. Adding considerably to the charm of the book are Parker's ink-and-watercolor illustrations, with a sketched, fleeting quality that seems to summon the events from history and renders them with immediacy.