Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Benny on the Beach is a bright and colourful comics story for younger children. There are no words, making it ideal for early readers who won’t have to wrestle with text and can instead enjoy looking at the images and working out what is going on just by analysing pictures, looking at the character expressions and so on. It’s introduced with a one-page explainer, ‘How to read a wordless graphic novel’ that demonstrates with numbered panels just how a comic strip works: “Wordless graphic novels are easy to read. Boxes called panels show you how to follow the story. Look at the panels from left to right and top to bottom. The pictures work together to tell the whole story.” It won’t be much help for anyone who can’t read yet, but it’s a useful way for adults to introduce the concept of comics to children.
The story is presented in a six panel grid, with the images carefully designed to show the characters in mid-shots and long-shots so we always know where they are in relation to the backgrounds. Readers can always clearly see what is going on, with very occasional close-ups for emphasis. Benny, a little boy, arrives at the beach with his parents in their car. He doesn’t appear to be too excited to be there, but a crab attracts his attention. He chases the crab around and when it vanishes under a rock, Benny digs a deep hole trying to find it and instead, digs up a woolly mammoth. The huge animal and the little boy forge a relationship in a beautifully choreographed set of slapstick situations, and when it’s time to go home, Benny is very sad to leave his new friend behind. But perhaps he doesn’t have to?
A two-page ‘Visual Questions’ section at the back of the book gives readers a few pointers on what they should be looking for in the pictures, which is an excellent way to encourage rereading and observation. Benny on the Beach works very well as an intro to comics reading. It’s an American version of a book previously published in Spanish, and as there are several more books in the original series, there may be more titles to come.