It took two years, but without library books, scale models, the Internet, Youtube tutorial videos, a piece of steel, or even a formal education, this young man fashioned a large striking clock that kept perfect time for over forty years. His name was Benjamin Banneker.
In author Shana Keller’s newest picture book, Tick Tock Banneker’s Clock, the year is 1753 and a young African American named Benjamin Banneker is living a peaceful life on his Chesapeake Bay farm. Because people in the area know Benjamin to be clever, a gentleman friend of Benjamin’s loans him a pocket watch to see what he might learn from it.
Benjamin’s inquisitive mind goes promptly to work. He studies the miniature gears and mechanisms inside the pocket watch and soon decides to make a much bigger clock – a striking clock – based on the design. First, he spends the entire winter patiently and methodically drawing meticulous diagrams of each moving part inside the watch. When spring comes, he gathers wood to carve the pieces, but when he discovers he must cure the wood before it can be used, he waits until winter rolls around again to begin carving.
Benjamin carves by sunlight and by candlelight until the pieces are finished. When spring rolls around, he is ready to fit the pieces together and set the clock’s hands to keep precise time. And by summer, the clock works – and keeps working for over forty years.
Tick Tock Banneker’s Clock is a lovely book about time, patience and genius in its purest form. It is also about curiosity, perseverance, and the fact that necessity really is the mother of invention. Wordy though this picture book is, Ms. Keller’s prose is sweet and personable and manages to leave readers rooting for young Benjamin and his clock every step of the way. Artist David C. Gardner’s illustrations are soft and peaceful, and manage to show the peacefulness of rural farms in early America, the unspoken loneliness of being a free and intelligent African American during living a solitary life among a bustling white community, and the sparkle of intelligent eyes as they seek the solution to a problem.
Use this book for independent or supplemental reading for early elementary classrooms, as a discussion-starter about genius, giftedness, slavery, and innovation in early America.