CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 27. . . .March 24, 2017
Ben and the Colonel.
Winnipeg, MB: Peanut Butter Press, 2017.
64 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.
Review by Ellen Heaney.
Another small press publication, and another children’s book that does not seem entirely clear where its audience lies.
Ben is a black dog who is leaving his factory job in “the dreary city” – a phrase repeated a number of times – to find a better life. Colonel Dewey is a marmalade cat with a southern accent, an adventurous spirit, a warm heart and a bit of a trickster’s playfulness.
Ben joins the Colonel’s business of offering hot air balloon rides. It quickly becomes apparent that this is not much of a money-making enterprise because of the Colonel’s arrangement with several regular customers who pay him in kind rather than with the money that Ben had hoped to make in order to set himself up with an escape fund. These riders include an elderly corgi who is identified as being a war bride, two fashion-obsessed French-speaking rats, and a large family of frogs.
The plot becomes complicated by a bogus kidnapping charge, a stop at the Hi Way diner where the dialogue is peppered with lunch-counter lingo and a huge rainstorm that causes the balloon to crash after Ben and the Colonel have parted company.
When Ben rushes back to find the Colonel, this scene is described:
Because the balloon was still draped around the trees into which it had crashed, it didn’t take Ben long to find the Colonel.
“Are you okay?” he asked, completely out of breath yet grateful that he had found his friend.
“Well,” Colonel Dewey replied, “that depends on how you look at it.” The Texan was waterlogged and had cuts, scrapes, bruises, and sprains, but hadn’t broken any bones. His balloon was destroyed, the basket demolished, everything but the propane tanks and burners was
wrecked, and he’d chewed his last piece of gum.
“I’m not fixin” to fly anytime soon.
The friends whom the Colonel has helped in the past all fall to and refashion the balloon and its basket. The Colonel takes off on a long-awaited voyage of adventure, with passenger Ben who at the last minute decides to climb aboard.
Ben knew he’d made the right choice, for no matter where he and Colonel Dewey ended up – whether it was in the next city or halfway across the world – life would never be dreary.
On one hand, the book’s large format and colour pencil drawings on almost every page make it look like a picture book. But the dense blocks of text indicate that it is more appropriate as a read-aloud for young primary children. There are also some adult sensibilities in the story which seem misplaced, for example:
Ben was sick of life in the city. He was sick of making widgets every day. He was sick of the traffic, the noise, the pollution, and the dirty snow in winter. He was sick of the heat in summer.
He was tired of walking down the same street every day, seeing the same faces stream past him, the faces of those who were caught in the same rut as him.
“Mrs. Tudor is a pensioner. The little the government gives her goes for her lodging. She can’t afford to pay for anything… If it wasn’t for the occasional ride in my balloon, I don’t think she’d ever get out. No, she’d never get to experience the joy of living.”
Now Ben was really suspicious. He saw Mrs. Tudor pass the Colonel that envelope. That cat was trying to cheat him out of his forty percent!
“Okay, that’s it, I’m out of here. You’re not going to give me my share!”
The book’s message about friendship is an important one. Individual characters, although somewhat stereotyped, are jauntily depicted in the author’s own illustrations. However some younger listeners may not be able to stay the course for the whole of this wordy extended tale.
Recommended with Reservations.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.
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