Benny’s Brigade

Arthur Bradford, illus. by Lisa Hanawalt. McSweeney’s McMullens, $19.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-936365-61-6
Bradford and Hanawalt make their children’s book debut with a slow, surreal outdoor adventure that begins when sisters Elsie and Theo discover a “strange nut wiggling on the ground” as they walk to school. Stranger still, when they pry it open, they find a miniature walrus named Benny inside. “I really don’t know how it happened,” he tells them. Benny accompanies the sisters to school, but longs to return to the ocean. The girls and their classmates build him a vessel from a milk carton, complete with a crew of “three healthy, fat slugs, ready for adventure.” Hanawalt capitalizes on the plot’s inherent oddness in neatly drafted panoramas dotted with solemn-looking insects, lizards, frogs, and elaborately plumed birds—readers may suspect that Benny isn’t the only animal with a story. Bradford’s non-ending, though, lands with a thud; the sunset-colored closing scene (replicated on a large foldout poster printed on the book jacket) shows an island Peaceable Kingdom of seals, slugs, and snails, along with the non sequitur, “And this is why you never know what wonderful creatures you might find living on an island.” Ages 4–8. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/02/2012
Release date: 08/01/2012
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