Title: Mesmerized : how Ben Franklin solved a mystery that baffled all of France
Author: Mara Rockliff; illustrated by Iacapo Bruno
Recommended for: Grade 3-6
Call Number/Link: E ROCKLIFF, M.
Synopsis: Discover how Benjamin Franklin’s scientific method challenged a certain Dr. Mesmer’s mysterious powers in a whimsical look at a true moment in history.
Review: Mesmerized is one of those rare non-fiction picture books that is colorful yet substantive. This is no forgettable picture book, I would be surprised if it did not pick up at least a Caldecott Medal or Honor. Mara Rockliff tells the story of how Benjamin Franklin disproved the work of Franz Mesmer.
1784 a French Royal Commission, which included Benjamin Franklin, was set to investigate the methods of Franz Mesmer. Mesmer was acting as a doctor in Paris. Mesmer claimed he was curing aliments via the power of “animal magnetism,” a natural energetic transference of fluidic energy using physical touch and iron rods. While the commission agreed that some of the cures claimed by Mesmer had an effect on patients; they also concluded there was no evidence of the existence of his magnetic fluid, and that its effects derived from either the imaginations of its subjects or through charlatanry.
In discussing the Scientific Method, as it related to how Franklin and the other members of the commission debunked Mesmer, this is an excellent instructional text. It also manages to highlight the topic of the Placebo effect. Wonderfully detailed end notes complete the book and make it an excellent text for classroom or home school use.
While beautifully illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, Mara Rockliff’s story is complex enough that I would not recommend it for younger readers; but it finds its place in a classroom or for grades 3-6.