BEN'S LUCKY HAT by Hans-Eric Hellberg


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Comings and goings with his friend Sammy, everyday conversations with his parents, happenings at home, and all the trivial childlike notions and surface impressions that drift through Ben's head: all this, for the first third (or 40 pages) of the story, is put together in short words and sentences, short paragraphs with much conversation, the naive interior focus that characterizes so many Swedish children's stories, and seemingly random order. There is also some obvious foreshadowing with funeral bells and a funeral procession. Then Sammy, on his bike, is killed by a car; and the story gets into gear. That Ben misses Sammy comes up frequently, stated too flatly to convey a strong sense of Ben's feelings, but given some reality by coming up each time in the course of what's happening now. First, Ben picks up a hat that a man in the park has thrown away. He decides that it's a magic hat and becomes instantly attached to it. An episode with the hat lands him for a scary short while in a dark garage (""the cars looked like wet kneeling elephants"") with Barbie, a capricious and assertive little girl who then becomes his friend. Maintaining possession of the magic hat becomes all-important; but in the end, after Ben, Barbie, and a rival for the hat bury a dead bird (its companion, whom they've freed from an obstruction, has flown free), Ben wins the hat triumphantly in a lofty tree-climbing contest with the other, more athletic boy. This achieved, he's secure enough to lend the hat to Barbie overnight. The bird symbolism is pretty trite, but the episode fits the story. And Ben's winning of the hat brings it all together and lifts it up. Once under way, the story is all the better for absorbing the mourning process and approaching it obliquely. Whether the treatment will prove too glancing for the designated seven-to-nine-year-old readership remains to be seen.

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 1982
Publisher: Crown