Booklist starred December 1, 2014 (Vol. 111, No. 7)
Grades 1-3. On brilliantly illustrated pages full of rococo details and beautifully calligraphed text, Rockliff tells the story of how Benjamin Franklin debunked Dr. Mesmer’s magical cure-all. As scientific innovation swept France in the eighteenth century, Mesmer decided to bring his own discovery to the mix—animal magnetism, an invisible force responsible for remarkable, seemingly spontaneous healing. Dubious of the true benefits of being mesmerized, King Louis XVI called on the most popular man of science, Ben Franklin, to help investigate. With a heavy emphasis on his use of the scientific method, Rockliff shows how Franklin’s experiment—blindfolding subjects so that they don’t know they’re being mesmerized—led to the discovery of the placebo effect, a vital component of medical testing to this day. Her dramatic text is perfectly complemented by Bruno’s lush, full-color illustrations, stuffed with period detail and sweeping ribbons and curlicues. Each page is teeming with personality, from the font choice to the layout to the expressive figures to the decorative details surrounding a name—on one spread, Franklin is in a tidy serif, while Mesmer is nearly choked by flourishes. Together, Rockliff and Bruno make the scientific method seem exciting, and kids interested in science and history will likely be, well, mesmerized.