CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 7. . . .October 16, 2015
Sarah Ellis revives the relatable character of preschool-aged Ben in her new book, Ben Says Goodbye. In this story, Ben’s best friend Peter is moving away, and Ben is very sad. Ben and Peter watch as the moving truck is packed up, and Ben’s family tries to help ease the transition by suggesting that Peter can visit or that the friends can talk online. Finally it is time for Ben to say goodbye, but he doesn’t want to. Instead, Ben decides that he is going to move too – not to some faraway place, but underneath the kitchen table into his “cave”. Cave Ben protects himself with a club (flashlight) and pointed stick (pencil), and tames a lion (stuffed) as his only friend. He ‘finds’ food (left outside the cave) and only speaks in grunts. After a while, Ben begins to draw on the walls of his cave. He draws copious stories of two best friends who have many happy adventures. Then he draws a story of two friends who live far apart and tunnel to the center of the earth to have a barbeque. This story projection seems to help Ben come to terms with the loss of his friend, and, at the inviting smell of popcorn and view of a fire in the fireplace, Ben finally crawls out of his cave to join his family. Ben hears a loud honk while snuggling with his family in front of the fire and watches curiously as movers unload box after box of stuff and then eventually a new blue scooter. He comes full circle in his emotional journey and begins to wonder if maybe the scooter is the exact right size to fit a new friend.
Losing a friend to a move is a familiar experience for children and adults alike, and this story will resonate with readers. Readers will relate to Ben’s unwillingness to say goodbye and his inclination to hide away and remember the fun times he and Peter had together. However, after being given some time and space to process his complicated emotions, Ben emerges ready to connect with his supportive family and consider the possibility of new friendships. The text of the story is accessible and simple. The only term that might trip up a reader is a few references to a game called ‘sniggle-ball’. This may or may not be a made-up game, but children may ask about it as it will likely be unfamiliar. The text also accurately captures the thoughts and feelings of a young child dealing with a sad life change.
The illustrations by Kim LaFave in this story appear to be a combination of drawn and computer-generated, and they strongly support the text They are colourful and engaging, and the facial expressions on the characters are expressive. They also add depth and undertone to the text that is not there without them. For example, when the text describes Ben retreating under the table, he is said to have a club, a pointed stick, and a tame lion. Readers will see though through the illustrations that these are really a flashlight, a pencil, and a stuffed lion. The cave drawings that Ben appears to draw are also excellent, depicting a world of fancy and imagination perfect for a creative child. The entire feel of the pages with his drawings is completely different from the feel of the illustrations in the rest of the book, which serves the story well. It is also an interesting device to watch the progression of Ben’s stuffed lion in the book go from neglected toy to his only friend to security blanket.
Due to the nearly universal experience depicted of losing someone you care about to moving away, Ben Says Goodbye is a story that many readers will relate to. Equally important though is the quiet message to readers that you can remember a friend while still participating in your life and looking forward to making new friends and memories. Ben Says Goodbye would be a good purchase for public libraries and school libraries that serve children in the preschool/kindergarten age group.
Carla Epp is a hospital librarian with the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.