May 14, 2018

Ben and the Scaredy-Dog

Written by Sarah Ellis
Illustrated by Kim La Fave
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
April 2018

It's so nice that Sarah Ellis and Kim La Fave's Ben who originated in Ben Over Night (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2005) has found a new home at Pajama Press. With its predecessors, A+ for Big Ben (2015) and Ben Says Goodbye (2015), Ben and the Scaredy-Dog solidifies the boy's place in guiding those in preschool and kindergarten to understanding more about the big world of siblings, change, friendships and dogs.
From Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, illus. by Kim La Fave
When Ben's friend Peter moved away in Ben Says Goodbye, the little boy was devastated, not knowing how he could continue with his routines and play. But Ben found the way to deal with that loss, and now he's ready to welcome a new friend–or so he hopes–into the house across the street and into his life. But, as much as he enjoys playing with the new kid, Erv, he is very apprehensive of their very big dog. Thankfully when the neighbours drop by, Max is on a leash. But when Ben is invited to their house where he anticipates the dog will be unleashed, the little boy is surprised to see the dog sitting complacently on a mat in the playroom. Poor Max has his own fears: he's scared of the unfamiliar and very shiny floors. When Erv gets called away, Ben reminds himself of all the things he'd learned about dogs so as not to provoke Max. Fortunately, Ben's way of self-soothing works on Max as well and the two unlikely friends find a way to be brave together.

Sarah Ellis demonstrates that children have enormous potential to learn coping strategies for all manner of fears and anxieties. Ben's fear of dogs is valid, especially for very little children and very big dogs, but by comparing how Ben's siblings see dogs–Robin sees their playfulness, Joe sees them as loving creatures–with how the little boy sees them–"When Ben looks at a dog he sees jaws and teeth. That's a dog to Ben. Jaws and teeth."–Sarah Ellis legitimizes all perspectives. Even the baby-steps approach to dealing with Max lends credence to the ability for children to learn how to cope while trying a multitude of strategies, including self-talk and mindfulness.
From Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, illus. by Kim La Fave
I love Kim La Fave's illustrations of Ben and company. His emphasis on perspective–looking up from a child's point of view and at their eye-level–encourages empathy for Ben's distress and concerns. Even with the bright colours of the kids' clothing and Max's soft expressions, Ben's fear is validated. But, with that lightness of line and colour, Kim La Fave pulls together Ben's thoughtful personality, Erv's playful exuberance and Max's big puppy nature.

It's nice to know, courtesy of Ben and the Scaredy-Dog, that anyone can be scaredy-dog about something and that it can be lightened with a little help from inside and out.
From Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, illus. by Kim La Fave

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