As I linked above, we read and reviewed the last book in the Benny and Penny series, Benny and Penny in Lights Out!, and Gloria cheered when this one arrived. Just to catch you up, Benny is the older, more emotional sibling, and Penny is the younger, more practical sister. And they show their personalities from the very first page of this story. Benny announces "I'm in a BAD mood!" (p. 9). When Penny asks why, it turns out that Benny has lost his beloved pirate hat (it was also left outside in Lights Out!). She retorts "AGAIN?" (p. 9). Benny, who is the one who feels everything strongly, continues "How can I be in a good mood when I'm in a bad mood?" (p. 10).
He feels the loss of the pirate hat very much, and sets off to find it. Penny has some practical, sisterly advice ("In this fog? You'll get LOST!" (p. 12)) but finally agrees to help him search. They set off, and have some alleged sightings of the pirate hat. But just like in Lights Out!, the shadows turn out to be anything but the pirate hat. One of the shadows is a dinosaur? a lizard? (Frances says lizard, Gloria says dinosaur) that tags along with them for a few minutes before they are all frightened by one last shadow. This one looks suspiciously like...a cat.
They all scurry away as quickly as they can. When the danger is over, Penny scolds Benny, "Benny, you always lead us into TROUBLE!" (p. 26). And sure enough, he has. Both Benny and Penny recognize that they are lost. This is where something interesting happens for Benny and Penny. Their relationship shifts from a more challenging, adversarial one to more of a team attitude. Benny, who is usually hot-headed and emotional, settles down in the crisis. Penny, usually so practical and slightly disapproving, melts down. She yells "WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT THAT OLD HAT?!!!" (p. 27). Benny is put in the position of comforting his younger sister. Once the meltdown is over, then they can go about the business of finding home safely, where indeed, the pirate hat is waiting for them.
While Benny and Penny's mother is never seen, she is still within earshot, providing for them. Their mother is the one who finds Benny's pirate hat while the children are out searching. It's worth noting that way back at the start of the story, Penny asks Benny if he's checked in the house before they set off on their adventure. Of course, when they return home, their mother tells Benny his hat was in the closet all along. Penny, wisely, never says a word. As soon as he finds the pirate hat waiting, mercurial Benny is in a good mood again.
Being lost as the two mice are can be really terrifying for a young child. Their mother has several adages about being lost that Penny repeats during their adventure. Penny first announces in a confident, slightly snotty tone " Mommy says 'When you lose something...think of the last place you had it.'" (p. 11). Benny ignores this advice, of course. When they are really lost and upset, Benny remembers "Mommy says 'If you get lost, always go back the way you came.'" (p. 31). And when they find their way back, she is there waiting to comfort them. That helps reassure young readers that losing things, even your way, might turn out okay at the end.
I think the illustrations do an excellent job of bridging the gap between reality and fiction. These are mice, after all, but with their strong personalities, you might forget it. While they wear some outerwear (a sweatshirt and jacket), they really do look and act like mice do. Their funny faces are full of human expression. The dinosaur/lizard is all cute, though. While he scares the siblings at first, he is just as scared by the menacing cat as they are, and he scampers quickly away. The fog is almost another character in the book. It obscures most of the scenery, giving an added feeling of tension to the story. It's cloudy, dark and mysterious, with a touch of swampy.
I almost always close my reviews of books in the TOON line by talking about the company's literacy efforts. Gloria is just beginning kindergarten next week, and her teacher came for a home visit, as is mandated by the district. I made a point of talking to him about TOON Books, and showed him this book. What I always love about these books is TOON's leveling system, and how clear it is. On the back cover, this book is indicated as Level Two. When you look inside the back of the book, there is a page of tips for parents and teachers about how to read comics with kids. There is also an explanation of the levels. This book is intended for students in Grades 1-2, and also includes Lexile, Guided Reading and reading recovery information as well. And TOON gives a handy breakdown of what Level 2 means to them:
- 300-700 words
- short sentences and repetition
- story arc with few characters in a small world
- 1-4 panels per page
I hope there are many more Benny and Penny adventures for us to read. I love their sibling relationship, as well as the precarious situations they get themselves into.
Benny and Penny in Lost and Found! Geoffrey Hayes. TOON Books, 2014.
sent by the publisher for review