The Picture Book Buzz

Benny's True Colors - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

In answer to our current political and social divisiveness, it is more important than ever that we model and teach our kids basic common decency. Fortunately, a number of wonderful children's books are being created which encourage compassion, inclusion, and respect.


This week's #PPBF book models acceptance of everyone's differences, inclusion, and friendship within a story about being true to yourself.

Benny's True Colors


Author: Norene Paulson


Illustrator: Anne Passchier


Publisher: Imprint (2020)


Ages: 3-6


Fiction


Themes:

Being true to yourself, friendship, animals, and inclusion.


Synopsis:

Discover the joy of being your true self in this uplifting and empowering picture book about Benny, who looks like a bat but knows that he really is a butterfly.


Benny may look like a bat, but Benny doesn’t like flying at night, or eating bugs, or hanging upside down. Benny does like sunshine and fluttering and colorful wings. On the inside, Benny knows he is a butterfly!


“I want my outside to match who I am inside!” With the help of some butterfly friends in the garden, Benny makes a happy change. And his friends and his Momma all love him just the same.


Writer Norene Paulson and illustrator Anne Passchier's Benny’s True Colors is a transformative story about knowing your true self, and the joy of letting the world know you, too.


Opening lines:

Benny looks like all the other little brown bats in the park—

he has a brown, furry body, webbed wings, and pointed ears.


But Benny isn’t a bat.

Bats sleep upside down in dark places.

Benny likes warm sunshine better.


What I liked about this book:

Benny's statement that, “I want my outside to match who I am inside!”, is the crux of the book. This is basically a concept book on being true to oneself, whether that matches your exterior of not.


Benny is a little brown bat who sleeps at night, "hates the taste of bugs," and dreams of being a butterfly. The star formation in this illustration is a great bit of foreshadowing.

Text © Norene Paulson, 2020. Image © Anne Passchier, 2020.


Throughout, Momma bat expresses unconditionally that Benny is and always will be loved and she trusts Benny to figure things out for himself. Benny's butterfly friends don't laugh when he tells them he knows he's a butterfly. In fact, they are very accepting and supportive and try to help him learn to flutter and land upright. When he expresses frustration at his inside and outside not matching, they assert that, “You are already one of us . . . You don’t have to change anything.”

Text © Norene Paulson, 2020. Image © Anne Passchier, 2020.


But, for Benny, that's not enough. He comes up with a plan that involves three caterpillars and a measuring tape. After spending time in a cocoon, Benny attains his heart's desire. Passchier's bright, colorful images are appealing and by keeping Benny's little snout and furry collar, they make it easier for kids to follow the transformation.

Unfortunately, in addition to being a transformation between species, this does play a little on the stereotypical notion of drab, icky bats being less desirable than silky, colorful, cute butterflies. Nevertheless, it employs an interesting, poignant metaphor, and I am glad the illustrator is themself non-binary. Overall, it is an empowering book which encourages everyone to embrace their true inner selves in a way that brings them joy. As noted in the dedication - " To all the trans and gender-nonconforming kids out there— you got this."


Resources:

- make moveable bat (https://www.redtedart.com/bat-paper-puppet/) and butterfly (https://www.craftnhome.com/butterfly-with-moving-wings.html) puppets and reenact Benny's story or make up your own story. What if a butterfly wanted to be a bat?


- read When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, Introducing Teddy: A gentle story about gender and friendship by Jessica Walton, or Jack (not Jackie) by Erica Silverman. How are they alike and different from Benny's True Colors?

- write a list, or draw a picture, of the ways your family and friends show they care about you. Now, do the same for ways you show them you care.


If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Norene Paulson (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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