Questions Grade School Students Ask – Answered by Ben Edwards

1. When did you become interested in writing? Did you write books when you were my age?

I’ve always liked to write and began creating simple books in third grade. Some of my early books were on dinosaurs and ghosts. In fifth grade, I wrote a book on treasure hunting and also one called Historic Massachusetts. In sixth grade, I wrote a book on the history of Connecticut and also a diary about the life of Benjamin Franklin. Luckily my Mom saved all the things I wrote. Click on the links below to see some pictures!

It’s fascinating that what interested me in grade school is what I ended up doing for work years later. By looking at these books, which are not fancy, I hope you’ll agree that you can write a book too – and probably illustrate it A LOT better than me!

2. What did you do to get better as a writer?

I did more writing in high school, where a creative writing class was one of my favorite courses. My big opportunity to improve my writing skills came in college (Bryant University) where I was on the school newspaper called The Archway for 3 years. During this time I explored my interest in journalism by interviewing administrators, teachers and students and writing countless articles for the paper. Guess I was reconnecting with my childhood admiration for Ben Franklin who submitted letters to his brother’s newspaper in Boston under the pen name Silence Dogood. More on another interesting Franklin connection in question 8. During my last two years with The Archway I also served as News Editor, passing out assignments to fellow staff members and continuing to develop my own writing abilities.

3. How long did it take you to write One April in Boston?

I worked on the book on and off for about a year. The research into my family history occurred over a period of six years. Since it was my first book with dialogue, I decided to hire a professional children’s book editor to review my first draft of the story. It was the best thing I ever did because her suggestions helped me produce a much better product.

4. I want to become an author. Can you give me some advice for my first book?

Sure. Remember, your first book can be REALLY simple. Look at the samples in question 1 of books I wrote in grades 3-6. Your book does not have to be perfect. Write it just for you and to show to your parents. I’m sure they’ll be very proud of you. Here’s a little exercise to get you started: Close your eyes. Picture something that you’ve found really interesting or exciting – maybe it’s a hobby you have, a sport you love to play, a vacation your family just took or a certain Boston field trip you just went on. Make it big, bright and colorful in your imagination. Think of all the cool things and everything you like about that subject. Do this for one or two minutes. Now, open your eyes and write down a list of everything you saw and draw some quick pictures that come to mind too. This is a fun and easy way to help you come up with an idea for your book. Good luck. I know your first book will be awesome!

5. How far back do your ancestors go?

The earliest written record of my Edwards ancestors being in Boston is a family Bible entry noting that my sixth great grandfather, Captain Benjamin Edwards, was married to Hanah (Hannah) Harrod by Doctor Cotton Mather in Boston on December 10, 1706. Ben was born in England in 1685. During my research I discovered paintings of both Captain Edwards and his father in a private home in Massachusetts. I learned that Captain Benjamin Edwards’ father was a barrister (lawyer) in England and when he died his wife Sarah and her son Benjamin came to Boston by sailing ship. They carried a painting of the barrister (my seventh great grandfather) on their journey. I am still doing more research to try to learn his name and trace the family back further. To see what my seventh great grandfather looked like, click on the link below!

6. Who is your favorite ancestor and why?

Although I’ve always been intrigued by my fourth great grandfather Ben Edwards who was 10 in April 1775 and his uncle Alexander Edwards, a member of the Sons of Liberty, my favorite ancestor continues to be Philip Edwards (1895-1918). The farewell letter Phil wrote to his parents before going into action in World War I has moved me since I was a child, and I learned so much more about him while performing research for One April in Boston.

7. Who is your favorite president and why?

This will be my longest answer. My favorite president has always been Abraham Lincoln. I like President Lincoln because, even though he was born into poverty and faced defeat throughout his life, he never gave up. Lincoln knew it was impossible for him to truly fail… unless he quit. Abraham Lincoln never quit and through his persistence and skill showed us he was a true champion, a man worthy of being considered by many our greatest president.

Here is a list of some of the challenges Abraham Lincoln faced:

1816 His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.
1818 His mother died.
1831 Failed in business
1832 Ran for state legislature – lost
1832 Also lost his job – wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.
1833 Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spend the next 17 years of his life paying off his debt.
1834 Ran for state legislature again – won.
1835 Sweetheart died and his heart was broken.
1836 Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
1838 Sought to become speaker of the state legislature – defeated.
1840 Sought to become elector – defeated.
1843 Ran for Congress – lost.
1846 Ran for Congress again – this time he won – went to Washington and did a good job.
1848 Ran for re-election to Congress – lost.
1849 Sought the job of land officer in his home state – rejected.
1854 Ran for Senate of the United States – lost.
1856 Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention – got less than 100 votes.
1858 Ran for U.S. Senate again – lost.
1860 Elected president of the United States.

Lincoln spoke these inspiring words after losing a Senate race. They show us how he viewed his defeats.

The path was worn and slippery. My foot slipped from under me, knocking the other out of the way, but I recovered and said to myself, “It’s a slip and not a fall.”

In One April in Boston you learned about the Edwards family’s connection to both the Revere and Lincoln families through marriage. You also listened to a wonderful recording of Lincoln’s most famous speech The Gettysburg Address – performed by legendary Lincoln portrayer Jim Getty. By listening to it over and over again, unless you quit, :-) I guarantee you can memorize it. Give it a try.

8. Have you always been a tour guide and do you like it? What other jobs have you done?

I’m in my seventeenth season as a private tour guide in Boston and I really do love it. The best part is working with teachers and students and also meeting families from all over the United States who are visiting Boston – many for the very first time. Before my work as a tour guide, much like Ben Franklin himself, I owned and operated a printing business. In my case it was for 20 years! In 1983, with my college roommate as a business partner and assistance from my Dad we purchased a small printing business in Connecticut and were trained by the former owner for one month. I started printing on the press, moved to the darkroom and then into estimating, sales and management. What started in a 1,200 square foot rented garage with 2 employees grew into a 14,000 square foot full color commercial printing firm with twenty-four employees on two shifts. I was responsible for writing all of the sales and marketing materials for the organization. The business was sold in 2004. I mentioned my college roommate above. We both attended Bryant University in Smithfield, RI and majored in marketing.

9. The author’s name on your book is Ben L. Edwards. What is your middle name?

The answer is kind of “top secret.” I do give out clues during my tours sometimes and the person who guesses correctly wins a signed copy of my book or some other prize. You know it begins with the letter “L” obviously and I can tell you that it contains 7 letters and has something to do with Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. Any guesses?

10. What’s the coolest “Boston history thing” you’ve ever done?

Let’s see, that’s a tough one… how about if I give you my top three? a) I’ve had the opportunity to climb to the top of the steeple of the Old North Church 3 times over the past 10 years while working on various projects; b) I’ve stood in the bell tower of King’s Chapel right next to largest bell (2,437 pounds) ever cast by Paul Revere as it was being rung; and c) serving on the Board of Directors of the Paul Revere House for 20 years I’ve had a chance to meet and work with members of the Revere family including Paul Revere, the third great grandson of the midnight rider who, as a child in 1940, unveiled the statue of his famous ancestor in the North End of Boston. Pretty cool stuff.

11. You’re an author who is related to Paul Revere. Are you famous and do you get paid a lot?

This question cracks me up. No, I am not famous. As for the second part of the question, it’s more important for me to make a difference in the work I do and have a positive impact on the students I teach than to make a certain amount of money. I believe the way that I teach history, through creative storytelling and with the support of primary sources like original colonial-era documents and newspapers, makes it memorable. History has always been my favorite subject because instead of viewing it as some might – a collection of meaningless events and dates to memorize – I’ve always focused instead on the men and women who lived through those events, inspired by the challenges they faced and the obstacles they overcame. Studying the lives of those who came before us can teach valuable lessons and motivate us to make the most of the time we have.