[Reviewed from copy provided courtesy of Miba & Josh Prigge.]
Ben is a magical and inspiring picture book from Josh Prigge and Minha Park that explores themes of loss, hope, forgiveness, love, and friendship that is both delicate and powerful.
The first person perspective and captivating imagery flawlessly evoke a deep level of empathy in readers of all ages and life experiences. Ben immediately connects the reader with the characters in such a universal and profound way that it you’ll find yourself completely absorbed. It is a special one-of-a-kind picture book and we should all be grateful that it exists in the world. Minha and Josh are extraordinarily creative individuals that use breathtaking art juxtaposed with exquisitely chosen words in Korean and English to create a story that seems to subtly change and alter itself each time you read it.
Ben is a beautiful story of a kind and older gentleman who has previously lost a child. One day during early spring, he meets and rescues a bee, brings it inside, and the two develop a friendship with each other over the course of a year.
Told from the perspective of the gentleman, he tells you in a clear and judiciously sparse narrative about how he met and cares for the bee. Then one day the gentleman collapses and has to be hospitalized. The bee is left alone until someone discovers him and another friend brings him to the hospital to be happily reunited with the gentleman. We then see an empty hospital bed followed by a passage of time when the book ends beautifully and simply with the phrase, “It’s Spring Again.”
While Ben possesses themes of staggering loss and crippling sorrow, the surreal and gorgeous way in which the story is told balances such gravity with a profound sense of goodness and beauty. The uniqueness of the friendship between the older gentleman and the bee, along with the urgency we feel to save the bees, work together and hold the reader in a heightened state of hopefulness throughout.
Ben has an ambiguous ending with the hospital bed empty and the bee gone. (Reading it shortly after my husband’s grandfather passed away, I assumed that the gentleman had passed away, but when reading it with my eldest son, he insisted that they were just gone and off to other adventures.) Both endings have their own merit and authenticity to them and it is impressive that the authors were able to leave the ending in a way that it can ring true for such a wide range of imbued meanings and interpretations.
Ben fully and expertly utilizes the picture book medium as a way to explore and share important universal struggles, truths, ideas, and hopes that we all carry. The artwork is elegant and profoundly expresses a huge range of emotions with the colors used. The beginning of the book begins in pale, almost washed out shades of pinks and blue that then is interspersed with some yellow and greens. The elderly gentleman is wearing browns and grays and you instantly feel his loneliness. The bee is bright yellow and black with a bright orange collar that stands out immediately. The bee begins to literally and figuratively add color to the gentleman’s life. The gentleman starts bringing flowers into his home for the bee and his brown clothes even become a bit lighter themselves. He then begins to wear a light blue color. It is a joy to watch how he and the bee’s friendship blossoms. As the gentleman collapses black fills the background, then as it seems to get better, we have dark blues, the gray and white of the hospital, and the final scenes are filled with rich and fresh greens and blues. Each scene is so carefully constructed and skillfully done that they can individually be displayed as works of art.
In short, Ben is an incredible work of storytelling and visual art.
Where to Get Ben:
Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the author and illustrator. No other compensation was received. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
FTC Disclosures: Some of the links in the post above are Amazon affiliate links and others are IndieBound affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase something, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Which goes to fund my family’s picture book habit. It’s a vicious cycle, but we manage. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”