June 15, 2020

Benjamin's Blue Feet

Written and illustrated by Sue Macartney
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
June 2020

Benjamin is a blue-footed booby who lives on an island in the Galapagos and loves searching for treasure. Unfortunately, with plenty of garbage clogging the oceans, it’s not surprising that much settles on Benjamin’s island. He finds a red “string-stretch-it” and an orange “hole-thing-um” and then he finds a “twink-um-doodle” a.k.a. a mirror. 
From Benjamin's Blue Feet by Sue Macartney
Unfortunately mirrors can be a curse for those of us who see in them what we don’t want to see. Benjamin sees that his beak is straight and very long, his wings are wide and bristly and his feet that are blue and floppy. And everything is different from those of his island mates.
From Benjamin's Blue Feet by Sue Macartney
Sadly Benjamin looks to his other found treasure to change his appearance, squeezing several onto his body to mask his “unsightly” body parts. 
From Benjamin's Blue Feet by Sue Macartney
Though a host of animals including sea lions, iguanas and finches laugh at his plastic enhancements, it is not until Benjamin recognizes the value in his big feet to his swimming, the beak to his fishing and his wings to his flying that this blue-footed booby appreciates all his attributes as they are.
From Benjamin's Blue Feet by Sue Macartney
Author-illustrator Sue Macartney tackles a lot of big issues in Benjamin's Blue Feet while maintaining a sweet story about a curious bird who finds novelty in junk. Like a child who finds gems among stones, Benjamin finds treasure in the garbage that washes up on shore. But it's that mirror that causes him to lose faith in himself when he finally sees what he looks like. By comparing himself to others, he deems himself less. And though he uses dangerous garbage to amend his appearance and can safely extricate himself from its inherent peril, this is what it takes for Benjamin to appreciate his morphological appearance as perfect for the functions of a blue-footed booby.

Sue Macartney’s art, created with pen and ink and digital media, always places the emphasis on Benjamin’s blue feet except when the garish garbage is around. His blue feet are vibrant and still harmonious with the earthiness of his environment, unlike the incongruous junk with its artificial and discordant colours.  Though Sue Macartney carries the reader to the unique environment of the Galapagos through the content of the landscape and its creatures (she also includes a double-spread of an assortment of "Creatures of the Galapagos"), I was especially mesmerized by her aquatic environment. She imbues her water with such hues of green and blues and textures of crinkly waves and whitecaps that the saltwater spray is almost palpable.
From Benjamin's Blue Feet by Sue Macartney
Benjamin may be surreal as a blue-footed booby who talks and can manipulate man-made junk, but the problem of ocean garbage and negative body image are not. They are dangerous challenges to our world and ourselves and teaching young children about them via an amiable bird reflects well on Sue Macartney and Benjamin both.

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Tomorrow I interview author and illustrator of Benjamin's Blue Feet, Sue Macartney, about her new picture book.

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