Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France
by Mara Rockliff
Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Illustrator Interview

Related Activities & Resources:

Author Information:
Mara Rockliff Bio:

Mara Rockliff Twitter:

Mara Rockliff Books:

Mara Rockliff Writing the Longer Picture Book:

Mara Rockliff on GingerBread for Liberty:

The Work of a Community: Interview with Mara Rockliff:

The Making of The Grudge Keeper:

Illustrator Information:
Illustrations of Iacopo Bruno:


Ben Franklin and Inventions:

Ben Franklin Inventions:

The Inventions and Scientific Achievements of Benjamin Franklin:

Franklin and his Electric Kite:

Benjamin Franklin:

Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer:

Scientific Method:
Scientific Method Steps:

The Scientific Method:

American Revolution:

American Revolution Video – School House Rock:


History of Hypnosis:

Other Activities:
The Placebo Effect:

Animal Magnetism:


Glass Armonica:

Ben Franklin might not have been able to disprove Dr. Mesmer’s hoax without using the scientific method. Have students brainstorm a list of possible hoaxes, or scientific myths, they would like to explore through the scientific method. Phenomena such as, “Is the Lochness Monster real?,” “Whether the “5-second rule” about dropping food on the floor and eating it is valid,” or “Lightning never strikes in the same place twice.” Guide students through the scientific method to help them answer their questions.

Ben Franklin played many different roles and pursued many different interests in his life. Some of these include scientist, inventor, politician, firefighter, abolitionist, musician, among others. Have students research one of these aspects of Ben Franklin’s life.

Book Talk Teasers:

Perform a Science Experiment using the Scientific Method.

Read p. 9 through p. 14 (Display images using camera and video projector.)

Discussion Questions:

Why was everyone in Paris abuzz about Dr. Mesmer?

Name several ways that Dr. Mesmer and Benjamin Franklin were different.

What was Dr. Mesmer’s astonishing new force?

Why do you think King Louis XVI specifically wanted Ben Franklin to investigate?

Why do you think there was a difference in what Ben Franklin’s reaction to the “force” and what others reactions were?

What was Ben’s hypothesis?

Was his hypothesis correct?

When Ben blindfolded the patient, were the results different? Why do you think this happened?

How much control do you think our mind has on what happens to us?

Ben Franklin was a Scientist and Inventor and constantly explored and investigated. Is there anything you have investigated in depth? Is there anything you want to know more about?

Read Alikes:

Fleming, Candace. Papa’s mechanical fish. In the summer of 1851, with encouragement and ideas provided by his family, an inventor builds a working submarine and takes his family for a ride. Includes notes about Lodner Phillips, the real inventor on whom the story is based. (NoveList)

Kehoe, Tim. Vincent Shadow: toy inventor. Eleven-year-old Vincent Shadow, inspired by the ideas of the inventor Nikola Tesla, has always kept his many unusual toy inventions secret from his family until he enters a contest whose prize is to spend a summer working with the eccentric Howard G. Whizz of Whizzer Toys. (NoveList)

Offill, Jenny. 11 Experiments that failed. A young child tries a series of wacky experiments, such as seeing if a piece of bologna will fly like a frisbee and determining whether seedlings will grow if watered with expensive perfume, and then must suffer the consequences of experiments gone awry. (NoveList)

Rosenstock, Barbara. Ben Franklin’s big splash: The mostly true story of his first invention. This book retells the story of the famous thinker’s first invention as a young Ben Franklin, troubled by the fact that fish swim better than he does, tries to invent a way to swim more fluidly. (NoveList)

St. George, Judith. So you want to be an inventor?. This book presents some of the characteristics of inventors by describing the inventions of people such as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Eli Whitney. (NoveList)

Ben Franklin:
Ashby, Ruth. The amazing Mr. Franklin or the boy who read everything. Ben Franklin was always a “bookish” boy. He was born in 1706, the seventh of ten children of a candlemaker. The first book he read was the Bible at age five, and then every printed word in his father’s small home library. Ben wanted to read more, but books were expensive. He wanted to go to school and learn more, but his family needed him to work. Ben Franklin had lots of ideas about how to turn his love of reading and learning into something more. First he worked as a printer’s apprentice, then he set up his own printing business. Later he became the first bookseller in Philadelphia, started a newspaper, published Poor Richard’s Almanac, and in 1731, with the help of his friends, organized the first subscription lending library, the Library Company. Ruth Ashby’s fast-paced biography takes young readers through Franklin’s life from his spirited, rebellious youth through his successful career as an inventor and politician and finally to the last years of his life surrounded by his personal collection of books. Ashby demonstrates how Franklin’s love of books and desire for knowledge was the foundation of all his great accomplishments. (Peachtree Publishers)

Barretta, Gene. Now & Ben: The modern inventions of Benjamin Franklin. This book presents the life and accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s most beloved figures, credited with introducing bifocals, daylight savings time, lightning rods, and the establishment of post offices. (NoveList)

Harness, Cheryl. The remarkable Benjamin Franklin. No one could have thought up a more amazing character than the living, breathing Benjamin Franklin. He was everything from a “soapmaker, candle dipper, and printer” to a “postmaster, political activist, community reformer, revolutionary, statesman, international diplomat, and first great citizen of a nation which he, as much or more than anyone, helped to create.”Acclaimed children’s author-illustrator Cheryl Harness through her true-to-life paintings and storytelling-style narrative, along with a generous sampling of Franklin’s own words, lets you “walk in his shoes” as you discover just how truly remarkable Benjamin Franklin was. (National Geographic)

Krensky, Stephen. Ben Franklin and his first kite. A beginning biography of young Ben Franklin who loves doing experiments and cannot wait to test out his latest idea involving a kite! (NoveList)

McDonough, Yona. The life of Ben Franklin: an American original. This book presents the life of one of America’s most beloved figures, highlighting his vast accomplishments and inventions, and discussing his role as one of the writers of the Declaration of Independence. (NoveList)

Priceman, Marjorie. Hot air: The mostly true story of the first hot-air balloon ride.  This book describes how, with an audience that including such important figures as Marie Antoinette and Ben Franklin, a duck, sheep, and rooster became the first passengers ever to ride in a hot-air balloon. (NoveList)

Proudfit, Benjamin. What you didn’t know about history. Benjamin Franklin accomplished more in his 84 years than most others could do in two lifetimes! Some parts of his life were devoted to science and invention, such as the pulley system he invented to lock and unlock his bedroom door while lying in bed. However, he was also the sharp, witty writer and thinker who convinced the French government to back the revolutionaries in the English colonies. Through surprising historical facts and anecdotes, readers learn even more about Franklin than they would in a textbook. Full-color images engage readers with Franklin throughout his life while fun fact boxes give additional interesting details. (Gareth Stevens)

Smith, Lane. John, Paul, George and Ben. A humorous look at five of our country’s founding fathers. (NoveList)

Schanzer, Rosalyn. How Ben Franklin stole the lightning. Ben Franklin was the most famous American in the entire world during colonial times. No wonder! After all, the man could do just about anything. Why, he was an author and an athlete and a patriot and a scientist and an inventor to boot. He even found a way to steal the lightning right out of the sky. Is such a thing possible? Is it. Take a look inside and find Ben busy at work on every spread. Then find out how he used his discovery about lightning to make people’s lives safer. (HarperCollins)

Marie Antoinette:
Lasky, Kathryn. Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles. In 1769, thirteen-year-old Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, daughter of Empress Maria Theresa, begins a journal chronicling her life at the Austrian court and her preparations for her future role as queen of France. (NoveList)

Other Mara Rockliff Books:
Rockliff, Mara. The grudge keeper. No one in the town of Bonnyripple ever kept a grudge, except old Cornelius, the Grudge Keeper. When Cornelius is nearly buried under all of the grudges, the townspeople must put their differences aside to save him. (NoveList)

Rockliff, Mara. Chik chak shabbat. When Goldie gets sick and can’t make the cholent, her neighbors bring dishes they made to share with each other. (NoveList)

Rockliff, Mara. Me and momma and Big John. Little John is proud of his mother’s work as a stonecutter for a cathedral called “Big John,” but struggles to understand the importance of spending so much time on one stone that no one will know Momma cut. Book includes a history of New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. (NoveList)

Rockliff, Mara. My heart will not sit down. In 1931 Cameroon, young Kedi is upset to learn that children in her American teacher’s village of New York are going hungry because of the Great Depression, and she asks her mother, neighbors, and even the headman for money to help. Book includes historical notes. (NoveList)

Other Books Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno:
Voigt, Cynthia. The book of lost things. When Max’s parents leave the country without him, he must rely on his wits to get by, and before long he is running his own–rather unusual–business. (NoveList)

Kuhlman, Evan. Brother from a box. Sixth-grader Matt Rambeau finds out what it is like to have a brother when his father, a computer genius, creates a robot kid that goes to school with Matt, shares his feelings and ideas, plays, does chores, fights for his “life” when chased by spies, and becomes a part of the family. (NoveList)

Baccalario, Pierdomenico. Suitcase of stars. Finley McPhee is an ordinary thirteen-year-old living outside a small town in northern Scotland–until he meets Aiby Lily and is caught up in the deadly, centuries-old fight for ownership of the Enchanted Emporium, where genuinely magical items are safely stored. (NoveList)


Book Reviews:

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France.
By Mara Rockliff. Illus. by Iacopo Bruno.
2015. 48p. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763663513). Gr. 1–3. 973.3.
First published December 1, 2014 (Booklist).

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, whileMesmer 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.Sarah Hunter


Horn Book:
Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France
by Mara Rockliff;
illus. by Iacopo Bruno
Primary, Intermediate Candlewick     48 pp.
2/15     978-0-7636-6351-3     $17.99     g

In 1778 Franz Anton Mesmer, fleeing scandal, brought his technique of “animal magnetism” to Paris. Using magnets and a “glass armonica,” his procedure convinced many that they were cured of their ailments. King Louis XVI commissioned the French Academy of Sciences to investigate, and they appointed a commission that included Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier, among others. The commission debunked Mesmer’s procedure (as practiced by his assistant D’Eslon), through their invention of the “blind” test and discovery of the placebo effect. Rockliff gives Franklin all the glory in her brief, sometimes jumpy narrative, suggesting he was the sole and direct appointee of the king, and that he invented and conducted the tests completely on his own (she gives a more complete context in her afterword). Aside from this grand misdirection, her text is engaging and lively (“Dr. Mesmer was as different from Ben Franklin as a fancy layered torte was from a homemade apple pie”) and pairs beautifully with Bruno’s dramatic and bold illustrations, which fully conduct the audience’s attention. There is no way a reader will escape the truly mesmerizing and energetic design, which incorporates period Parisian flourishes. The entire presentation effectively introduces the gist of this story, and demonstrates in particular the scientific-method process which Franklin (and others) applied, and which makes this book particularly suited to STEM and Common Core curricula. NINA LINDSAY (January/February 2015 Horn Book Magazine)


School Library Journal:
Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France
Gr 2–5—Benjamin Franklin could be described in so many different ways: inventor, printer, scientist, thinker, diplomat. From this book, the word skeptic should be added to this list. While in France raising funds for the American rebellion against the British, Franklin was enlisted by Louis XVI to investigate the claims made by a young Austrian doctor who had much of Europe enthralled with his ability to remedy a wide variety of illnesses simply by waving an iron wand around their person. Calling it “animal magnetism,” Franz Mesmer was treating the European elite by bringing them into darkened rooms while spellbinding music played on a glass armonica, invented by none other than Franklin himself. Mesmer would charge a rather large sum of money and pronounce his clients “cured.” Doubtful of Mesmer’s abilities, Franklin set about disproving the doctor’s claims. Rockliff’s lighthearted tone and lively writing style are enhanced by the use of different typefaces and print sizes, as well as a layout that will keep readers engaged throughout. Rockliff plays with words and rhythm, making this book an excellent choice for reading aloud. The artwork is infused with humor, and the individual’s expressions throughout are a delight, from the look on the face of a swooning patient to Mesmer’s own intense glare. There is much here to draw the eye and prod discussion. A lengthy author’s note fills in the details of the story and provides information on the scientific method. Overall, a wonderful and fun-filled title that introduces yet another facet of a fascinating man.—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA


The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
Rockliff, Mara. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France. Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. Candlewick, 2015. hb 9780763663513

When Louis XVI began to suspect that France’s newest rage—Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer with his unseen healing force that “streamed from the stars and flowed into his wand”—wasn’t quite on the level, he appointed the ever-popular Benjamin Franklin, currently in Parisian residence to curry French support for the newborn United States, to a committee to investigate Mesmer’s claims. Rockliff retells the episode with equal measures of gentle satire of aristocratic gullibility and tidy reconstruction of the scientific method used to unmask the humbug. Of particular note is her explanation of how the blinded tests Franklin devised to eliminate possible explanations are used by scientists today. She is also generous to the disgraced Mesmer (whose technique, now commonly called hypnotism, had more to do with autosuggestion than astral forces), crediting him with being on the right track concerning the mind’s role in healing, and in pointing the way toward the placebo effect. Although the four-page endnote definitely expands information about the two competing “scientists” and their showdown (Mesmer was represented by his proxy, Charles D’Eslon), the main text itself is sufficient for a cogent introduction. Digitally colored pencil illustrations underscore the humor, and boxed insets on the scientific method alert readers to pay attention to how Franklin went about his proof. A list of sources is included, and the discombobulating optical trickery of the endpaper design is worth its own visit. Review Code: R — Recommended. Grades 2-4. Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, March 2015 (Vol. 68, No. 7))