Review: Lenny and Benny

 Lenny and Benny

by Naama Benziman, translated from Hebrew by Shira Atik

Green Bean Books

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Shirley Vernick

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Lenny and Benny is a contemporary retelling of the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza midrash about the value of friendship and the dangers of baseless hate and anger. Written and illustrated by Naama Benziman and translated from Hebrew by Shira Atik, the English version of this picture book was released by Green Bean Books on April 28, 2021.

Rabbits Lenny and Benny are best friends…until Lenny grows envious of Benny’s jumping skills and says mean things to Benny. The bunnies stop playing together. Later, when Lenny accidentally receives a birthday party invitation from Benny, he decides he’s ready to reconcile. But now Benny is angry and says mean things to Lenny. Things seem hopeless. Months later, though, Benny finds the unopened birthday gift from Lenny, a gift that includes a picture of the two bunnies in happier times. This helps Benny realize that the friendship is too important to lose over a spat.

While the ancient midrash ends with the destruction of the Second Temple, Lenny and Benny has a happy ending and is infused with humor throughout. The book includes a summary of the original midrash, along with a hopeful end note about the healing power of kindness and forgiveness.

Lenny and Benny is richly illustrated with whimsical and deceptively simple blue-and-red line drawings that are bursting with detail. These images help ease the intensity of the anger and arguing for young audiences. A two-page foldout of the chock-full-of-animals party scene adds to the attraction.

This book is entertaining and thought-provoking, making it a useful addition to both classroom and home libraries. Pertinent year-round, it would also be a good choice for Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

Lenny and Benny meets the criteria for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. The story is well crafted with positive and constructive Jewish content. It’s appropriate for picture book audiences, with an active storyline (jumping competitions! birthday party! animals!), vibrant illustrations, and accessible vocabulary. The blending of a contemporary tale with the ancient midrash give this book both religious and cultural relevancy.

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Reviewer Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle grade and young adult novelist. Shirley’s debut novel, The Blood Lie, is a Sydney Taylor honor book and the winner of the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon A World Book Award. Her Jewish-themed MG novel, RIPPED AWAY, will be published by Regal House Publishing in February of 2022.