The latest release from McSweeney's McMullens series is yet another gorgeously designed children's book, with captivating artwork, a surreal plot, and a dust jacket that unfolds into a poster, revealing gold foil embossed slugs on the cover. One day Elsie and her younger sister Theo discover a wiggling cantaloupe-sized walnut on the ground. When they crack it open they discover a small walrus inside named Benny. Benny is extremely well mannered and enjoys the taste of pretzels because the salt reminds him of the sea. Theo takes Benny to school in her pocket and upon seeing how desperate Benny is to return to the ocean her schoolmates decide to construct a boat from a milk carton, pencils, masking tape and yarn, in the hopes that Benny might sail down a nearby creek and make his way back home.
There are a number of unanswered questions and mysterious circumstances surrounding Benny's story. How did Benny get trapped in that strange nut? What's the deal with the three giant slugs that decide to accompany Benny on his voyage? And what's up with the abrupt conclusion, ending with Benny and the slugs settling down on a tiny river island populated by a bizarre assortment of mini dogs, seals, snails, and flightless birds?
Beats me, but my son and I certainly enjoyed discussing the possible sub-plots in this weird, yet charming book.
• Find it: Benny's Brigade by Arthur Bradford, illustrated by Lisa Hanawalt (McSweeney's McMullens, 2012)
(Images: Ben Partridge)
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