December 18, 2014


Where’s My Fnurgle? By Jim Benton. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

Five Stinky Socks. By Jim Benton. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

Piggy Paints. By Jim Benton. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

Robot Kitties. By Jim Benton. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

     Leave it to Jim Benton, creator of Happy Bunny and other suitably weird and thoroughly amusing characters, to come up with thoroughly delightful animal-character board books, including one featuring something that has never been seen in a book before. The “something” is a Fnurgle. And if you have to ask what one is, well, you are just like everybody else, because this green, polka-dotted, big-eyed, huge-nosed, ever-smiling whatever-it-is is entirely fnurglian and not much of anything else. The fnurgle does not do much of anything and in fact spends most of its (his?) time not being where the book’s narrator expects it (her?) to be. Hence the title, Where’s My Fnurgle? Readers will see all or most of the fnurgle on all the pages of this board book, but the narrator has a problem. For example, “My fnurgle’s on the chair” is what a left-hand page says, but the chair is clearly empty and the fnurgle is outside the window, smiling. “My fnurgle’s in the sink!” Um, well, no – actually, the fnurgle is hiding in the, well, toilet. Whether sitting calmly amid six kittens or eating the narrator’s lunch, the fnurgle is inevitably up to some sort of mischief or mystery, for no other reason than the apparent fact that that is apparently what fnurgles do. Filled with the usual silliness at which Benton is adept, but presented in board-book format – simple language and a minimal number of pages – this introduction to fnurgling will be a lot more fun than are many board books. It is admittedly a lot less educational, too, but being informative is not what Benton does best. Nor, apparently, what fnurgles do. The first three letters in “fnurgle” are, however, an acronym for “fun.”

     The monster thingie that narrates Five Stinky Socks isn’t a fnurgle – it’s hard to tell just what it is – but it does have considerable fondness for super-smelly footwear. The huge-eyed, huge-nosed, five-footed character explains that it used one sock to wash dishes, has a second one that smells like a skunk, found the third in a trash can, and so on – you get the idea, and so will kids, who will enjoy the narrator’s poses while he makes comments such as, “They’re smelling up my feet” and “I have to hold my nose.” Eventually the socks have all been suitably described – and drawn, with each looking equally colorful and smelly in its own way – and what now? Well, it’s time to play outside, and that means putting the stinky feet, encased in stinky socks, in – you guessed it – stinky shoes. The only real problem here will be persuading kids that no matter what monster thingies may do, children do not go out of their way to wear the stinkiest possible socks. Or shouldn’t, anyway.

     At least Benton makes the central character of Piggy Paints a familiar animal: a pig, of course. But not just any pig. This is a Benton pig, which means he wakes up with “big painting plans” one morning, grabs a brush as big as he is, and paints on the wall – then puts on magnifying glasses so he can see well enough to paint something really, really small. He paints some recognizable things (“pigs with a kitty in the middle,” frogs, sheep), but mostly abstract ones – including a purple splotch so large that he has to paint it by piloting a helicopter beneath which a gigantic paintbrush is tied. Pig’s painting turns into an all-day project, at the end of which Piggy is right back where we saw him first: in bed, but this time paint-spattered and with brushes and cans on the floor and newly painted art on the wall of his room. As with Five Stinky Socks, there is an issue for parents with Piggy Paints, which is to explain that no matter what Benton-drawn pigs do, children do not paint on walls, or by flying helicopters, or by making huge messes everywhere (not intentionally, anyway).

     The characters in Robot Kitties are familiar animals, too – well, more or less. This board book has subtle tie-ins to Piggy Paints (one robot kitten is seen painting a picture of a pig) and to Five Stinky Socks (another is shown trying on socks and shoes that, if not necessarily stinky, are certainly as ill-matched as those in the stinky-socks book). On its own, though, Robot Kitties is simply about – well, the title says it all. There is no explanation of where the robot kitties come from or what relationship they have to humans or other creatures – in fact, the only characters in the book are the robot kitties themselves. Not that there is anything threatening about them – not at all. They are simply amusing as they walk on four legs, or upright on two; fly with a propeller tail, with airplane wings or by hanging onto a balloon; scoot along with their bottom parts having car-like wheels or a single unicycle-like one; or explore underwater within a submersible or simply by using their own robot fins. The fun here lies in looking at all the things the robot kitties do: “You’ll see them here. You’ll see them there. Robot kitties everywhere.” There you have it: short, simple and enjoyable. Indeed, the point of all these Benton board books is plain and simple fun – with which the books are neatly and completely packed.

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