Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms!
Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms! is the third in the clever series by Philippe Coudray, after Fuzzy Thinking and Bright Ideas!. The volumes collect a series of one-page comics in which Benjamin demonstrates his imagination, surrounded by his woodland friends.
They’re highly enjoyable reads, with plenty of potential for discussion with younger readers about what they see and what they expected to happen. They spur creative thinking and a sense of joy at how amazing the world can be. They’re the best kind of smart, the kind that enriches the reader without giving them the feeling of being left out.
Sometimes the jokes are artistic, as when a helpful rabbit moves an archery target so Benjamin always gets a bullseye. The cartooning of the bunny jumping around is active and fun. I also particularly enjoyed the way a two-hole birdhouse is framed to resemble a face.
Sometimes the strips are jokes on the reader, too, as when Benjamin needs to get an apple off the tree that’s just out of reach. He kicks the tree, which causes a rain of fruit. But that’s not the punchline; the final panel shows him building a pile of apples in order to climb up and get the one he really wanted.
I loved these kinds of twists on the reader’s expectations when I was a kid, because they demonstrate how intelligence and a refusal to accept the expected can have wonderful consequences. The world isn’t as straightforward as we’re told it should be, and these images reinforce that weirdness, which I find younger readers love.
The encouragement of fresh thinking, of alternative ways to solve problems, is well-appreciated, as when Benjamin, asked to break a tree in two, cracks a twig off the end of a branch. It answered the question, but in a way that outsmarts his friend. Maybe we shouldn’t take our assumptions for granted but try new ways of approaching challenges. In that way, Brain Storms! is encouraging.
Sample pages can be seen at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)