Review: Benjy's Blanket
adapted by Miguel Gouveia, illustrated by Raquel Catalina
Green Bean Books
Benjy’s Blanket, adapted by Miguel Gouveia and illustrated by Raquel Catalina, is the eighth (that I know of!) picture book that retells the old Yiddish folktale, Something from Nothing. A grandfather sews something - usually a coat, here a blanket - for his grandchild. The child outgrows the item or it becomes too worn to use, and the grandfather keeps reusing smaller and smaller scraps - turning them into a jacket, a vest, and so on. When there is nothing left of the original blanket, it turns out something remains - the story!
With a beautiful, soothing palette of browns, greys, turquoise and touches of yellow, endpapers that show sewing patterns, and a smaller trim size for smaller hands, Benjy’s Blanket is a lovely - but not necessary - addition to the books that have already adapted this folktale. As in all versions of the story, the themes of l’dor va’dor (from generation to generation), the value of memory and telling our stories, and the importance of recycling are treated tenderly and without didacticism. But Benjy’s Blanket lacks the Yiddish touches, collage art, and cut-outs of Simms Taback’s Joseph Had A Little Overcoat by Simms Taback and the parallel storyline of a mouse family beneath the floorboards in Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing. Bit by Bit by Steve Sanfield and illustrated by Susan Gaber adds an extra element to the meta ending (as indicated on the cover), while I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn and illustrated by Julie Denos, features a female protagonist and musical language but strips the story of any Jewish content and changes the ending. In My Grandfather’s Coat author Jim Aylesworth and illustrator Barbara McClintock retell the story in the context of the Jewish immigration to America. Maya’s Blanket: La Manta de Maya by Monica Brown and illustrated by David Diaz is bilingual and also has a female main character. Finally, The Clever Tailor transplants this story (identified on the back cover only as “a European folktale) to India with vibrant illustrations. Benjy’s Blanket is a lovely version of the tale, but doesn’t add much to the others out there.
The author and illustrator of Benjy’s Blanket are from Portugal and Spain, respectively, but there are no indications in the book, visual or verbal, as to where the story takes place, nor are there any references to its Jewish roots. It seems that this was a missed opportunity to locate this admittedly originally Eastern European tale somewhere else, particularly so as to distinguish it from its predecessors.
A lovely book, but not award-worthy.
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