Benjamin Bear – Fuzzy Thinking and surreal visual puzzles….
Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking
By Philippe Coudray
Oooh, this is very interesting. It’s a Toon Book, full of simple language, designed for US Grades 1-2 (6 and 7-year olds), short sentences, lots of repetition, a simple set of characters, and just a few uncomplicated panels per page.
And it’s as lovely as all the Toon Books have been, a perfectly sized hardcover, just right for little hands. Featuring a bear, and a rabbit, and a few other characters.
There are small adventures here to be discovered, in a collection that’s a series of single page comic strips. Some are simple little sweet and funny moments. Others use little visual gags to get the reader’s attention:
But what makes Benjamin Bear truly interesting, and unique amongst the Toon Books series so far is just how inventive, how strangly surreal some of Coudray’s strips are. So many of them deliver gentle punchlines that require no small amount of interesting thinking, especially when you consider the target audience.
Not that this is a problem, I’ve no qualms in saying a lot of children will love this, but some will “get” it for the cute characters and fun they have, but others will really “get” it and see the inherent weirdness in something like this:
The understanding to make this work, when you actually think about it, is quite complex. Talking animals give it fun and the cuddly bear is cute. But to grasp why the bird and the fish swap places once underwater requires the understanding that turning the fish tank upside down traps air inside, allowing the air breathing bird to survive, whilst the fish is at home in the open bird cage as it can live in the water.
Will a 6 year old get this? I don’t know (hopefully we’ll find out soon at school with some test readings). Will they enjoy it whatever their complex understanding? Absolutely. And that is the beauty of the book. It’s as complicated and involved as a child wants it to be. Nicely done.
There’s part of me that thinks that this, with very few changes could just as easily be an alternative comix collection as a Toon Books comic. Each strip piles on the visual and verbal surreality, there’s so much going on in each strip, even a little self-referential stuff going on…
All in all, Benjamin Bear is rather a puzzle, or perhaps a better description would be a series of visual puzzles, all waiting to be deciphered by a young mind. I think they’ll adore the book, no matter what their exact level of understanding.