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BENNY'S BRIGADE by Arthur Bradford


by Arthur Bradford & illustrated by Lisa Hanawalt

Age Range: 6 - 8

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-936365-61-6
Publisher: McSweeney's McMullens

In this bland but surreal tale two children find a tiny walrus in a nut.

Prying open a coconut-sized walnut, sisters Elsie and Theo free little Benny—who thanks them profusely, accompanies them to school, where he sings a sad song about missing the sea, and then sets out for home aboard a milk-carton boat. Three adventuresome slugs (looking much like Benny, aside from lacking tusks) come along for the ride but, being salt-averse, debark before reaching the sea. The language is downright fustian (the children "were sorry to see Benny and the slugs go, but now it was time for school, and they had adventures of their own to which they must attend") and printed in blocks of small type that look lost on the large pages. Moreover, Bradford's narrative has none of the illustrations' luxuriant strangeness. Frequently zooming in for extreme close-ups, Hanawalt floats the simply drawn children and their blubbery buddy slightly above leafy, grassy meadows that are thickly strewn with both low wildflowers and an astonishing menagerie of onlooking birds, insects, lizards and other wildlife. A huge foldout poster featuring crowds of picnicking walruses, slugs and fantasy animals in a "peaceable kingdom"–style scene serves as dust jacket and also echoes the culminating spread within.

A perfunctory plotline, buried among visual wonders that more than compensate. (Picture book. 6-8)