What Are You Doing, Benny? by Cary Fagan and Kady Macdonald Denton

Review Copy provided by Tundra Books/ Penguin Random House Canada

Where to Find What Are You Doing, Benny?

[Affiliate Link] Amazon 
[Local Bookstore] Indiebound
[Library] Worldcat

In What Are You Doing, Benny? author Cary Fagan and artist Kady MacDonald Denton join together to tell the story of two brothers, their power dynamics, why NO is a limiting word, and why YES is such a better word to use instead.

Told from the younger brother’s perspective and in a hybrid of a traditional picture-book layout and comic-book layout – we follow along as a younger brother desperately, desperately wants to hang out and help his older brother, Benny. Benny’s little brother is willing to do just about anything for the privilege of getting his older brother’s attention. He will help build forts, make a potion, make a paper airplane, and anything else his older brother, Benny, would like to do. But his older brother seems to only know one word: NO.

You feel really bad for the little brother. My sons were both appalled at Benny’s actions – even though on more than one occasion they have both been guilty of the exact same behavior. Sometimes it’s so hard to see how your own behavior influences others until you’re able to sit back and see it happening to someone else.

After so many rejections in a row, Benny’s little brother goes back to his room and regroups. When his older brother walks by and tell him what he’s going to do, Benny’s little brother decides to go for it again and offers to do anything if his older brother will just let him hang out with him — but all he gets are more NOs from his brother. No matter what he says to his older brother, he just can’t get Benny to say YES to him.

Benny’s little brother then goes in for some deep puppet therapy to help him cope with so much rejection from someone he loves. He gets his toy puppets out and starts a one-fox puppet show replaying the events that he has just experienced.

Benny’s all… Wait, my little brother is doing something without me? Then he goes over and asks his little brother if he wants to do something together. The little brother is busy and now it is HIS turn to dole out the NOs.

Now it’s Benny’s turn to figure out how to get his little brother to play with him. He brings an offering of a sandwich and the next thing we know — Benny and his little brother are doing a puppet show together and saying YES to each other.

What Are You Doing, Benny? does a great job of reflecting to children the very real and very relevant experiences they may have with their siblings. It shows a lot about regrouping, rethinking, and the value of going after what you want from the side instead of head on.

It stirs up tons of questions like: Why was Benny’s little brother bragging so much? Why was Benny saying NO so much? Why do you think Benny changed his mind? And why was Benny saying NO but then going back to his little brother just to seemingly rile him up again? It’s an extraordinarily layered exercise in sibling interactions and reactions.

The illustrations are wonderful! They layout, the colors, and the fantastic expressions on the foxes’ faces are thoughtful, expressive, and very well-crafted. They pull you right in and ask you to hang out awhile.

They’re also playful without being silly. Children or adults going through similar situations will feel that their thoughts, feelings, and circumstances are taken seriously. The format makes the ideas, concepts, and interactions presented in this book very accessible to even very young children. The use of unnamed first person from the younger sibling’s perspective easily allows for the younger sibling to feel that they are this young fox.

It’s also a great book to read out loud. The pacing is very accessible for new out loud readers – both adults and children. It allows for the reader to give two to three different voices and for a wide range of emotions.

Humor is weaved into the story to provide levity and can induce some good giggles. But this book didn’t strike me as a comedy. Comedic, yes; comedy, no. But for my kids I was really surprised at how strongly Benny’s behavior frustrated them. Even with the sweet resolve at the end, I was struck with how they were still hung up on Benny’s behavior long after the book was over. It’s so funny how different things stick with different people, right?

What Are You Doing, Benny? has definitely made them stop and think a bit about how and why they treat each other the way they do, and it is very much so a step in the right direction. It’s an excellent book for siblings to read together.

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher. 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.”

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