The pages range from three rectangular panels to six smaller squares or a mixture. Each one has a deadpan sense of humor, with a silly twist at the very end. In "Can I get a ride?" Benjamin picks up more and more animals until in the final panel they are all carrying him. In "Hot and cold" a visibly sweating sheep complains of the heat and Benjamin helpfully shears it. Then it's too cold! In the final panel, a disgruntled Benjamin is knitting a sweater.
The simple art, with small touches of details, is perfectly suited to the dry humor of the stories. Benjamin, with his slightly fuzzy outline and almost always blank face, is the perfect vehicle for the situational humor that pops up in almost every story. The simple colors and outlines are decorated with details - a swimming fish, tiny flowers, etc.
The text is a little more complicated. This is supposed to be an easy reader, a level 2 for grades 1-2 in Toon's levels. However, each story has only a few speech bubbles, usually at the beginning, and some are wordless. Put another way, there are 56 panels with words (including those saying "ok", "thanks" or similar one word bubbles) and 66 wordless panels. Now, I agree that not every easy reader has to be crammed with new words, that there are different kind of literacy, and that Toon books do a good job of showing many different ways of reading. That's not the point. The point is, will the parents in my community (who are obsessed with lexiles, leveled readers, and making sure their kids in four year old kindergarten are "reading") want their kids to pick up this book, or will they flip it open, say "not enough words!" and put it back on the shelf? I decided not to add Fuzzy Thinking, the previous volume, so I don't have any circ stats to compare. The libraries who have it in my consortium have wildly differing numbers and have put it everywhere from picture books to beginning readers to graphic novels.
Verdict: While I originally decided to put all the Toon books in easy readers, I am going to break my rule and place Benjamin Bear in graphic novels. I think it will attract kids looking for cartoons more than kids (and parents) looking for easy readers. How this will circ depends a lot on your library and community!
ISBN: 9781935179221; Published 2013 by Toon Books/Candlewick; Review copy provided by publisher.