________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005


Ben’s Big Dig.

Daniel Wakeman. Illustrated by Dirk van Stralen.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
32 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 1-55143-384-2.

Preschool-grade 4 / Ages 4-9.

Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.

**** /4

Reviewed from f&g’s.

Ben’s Big Dig is a wordless picture book that begins on the initial endpapers with a car traveling along a country road; Ben’s mother is driving him to his grandmother’s farm for an overnight visit. Ben’s grandmother has a proclivity for baking pies, and her kitchen is filled with pastry delights. In his bedroom, Ben finds a globe and a trunk with photographs of miners on the lid. Ben has a difficult time falling asleep – he peers outside the window, tosses and turns, thinks about the globe and eventually retrieves his stuffed monkey (Curious George) from his knapsack. After a trip downstairs to the kitchen to make a peanut butter and jam sandwich, he ascends the stairs to get the shovel, wool socks and mining hat from the trunk at the end of his bed. He exits the house and in glow of the moonlight begins to dig. Ben’s excavation takes him into the depths of the earth, past many unusual objects buried in the layers of the soil. Following a snack break, Ben resumes his digging, but, much to his surprise, ocean water filled with marine creatures flows into the tunnel. He and his surprised aquatic companions flow back up to the hole’s entrance, and, in geyser-like fashion, they surface just as the sun rises over the hills. Like Frisbees, Grandmother flings her pies out of the kitchen window to stop the geyser of water. With assistance from a shovel-bearing octopus, the hole is transformed to a pool for the fish. Ben, hungry after his journey, asks his grandmother for a piece of pie. Luckily, thanks to Ben, there is one pie left. The final illustration depicts someone’s hand holding a black and white photograph of Ben, his grandmother and the octopus enjoying their pie.

internal art

     According to the information on the end bookflap, van Stralen’s artwork was first created in pencil drawings, then scanned and completed in Photoshop. The computer technology is evident in many of the illustrations as van Stralen scatters actual photographs throughout the book and purposefully blurs aspects of particular illustrations. Ben is Bart Simpson-like in appearance, and most of the illustrations are framed in comic book-like fashion. However, the frames vary in size and shape. The illustrations are drawn from varying perspectives, and, for two double-page spreads, readers can/need to rotate the book to vertical to view the artwork.

     Ben’s Big Dig is an entertaining visual narrative about a boy’s excursion to the depths of the earth. Van Stralen uses the basic elements of art and principles of design to create a visually sophisticated and appealing book that warrants and rewards multiple viewings (e.g., note the design on Grandmother’s oven mitts)!

Highly Recommended.

Sylvia Pantaleo teaches language arts courses in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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