Can I withdraw this book now? Garth Williams’ The Adventures of Benjamin Pink


The short answer is: probably. The longer answer is in the last paragraph.

This is a sweetly1 anthropomorphic book about a village of animals who walk on two legs, dress in pants (for the boy animals) and skirts (for the girl animals), drink tea, sail boats and visit amongst one another. As the book begins, Benjamin Pink and his wife Emily, both rabbits, discuss that day’s plans over their breakfast tea, and Benjamin promises2 his darling wife a fish for their feline supper guest. He collects his fishing creel, digs some worms and sets out in his boat…only to be swept out to sea and into adventures by a storm. Cast away on a deserted island, he discovers a trunk of treasure in the process of digging himself a home in a sand dune, is rescued by the porpoise friend of one Theodore Turtle and carried to an island populated by monkeys. After failing to set himself up as King of the Monkeys–it’s unclear whether the monkeys are too ignorant to understand ‘kingship’ or Benjamin too full of himself to rule them well–Benjamin hitches a ride with a shark who takes him back to his proper home. Upon arrival, still unable to see farther than the glitter of the treasure he left behind on the deserted island, Benjamin attempts to explain the improvements he’ll fund with his treasure to the town council, only to discover that the town council and indeed many of his neighbors are no more his friends than the monkeys; the only difference being that the monkeys are a disorganized rowdy rabble while many of the other townsfolk are sarcasm with a veneer of etiquette. In the end, Benjamin’s true friends (not least his wife!) make ready to sail back to the island and retrieve the treasure; I can only hope that they take only what they need and use it only for a genuine good…I think that’s rather the point of this fable: it’s not money but rather friendship and mutual support which brings happiness.

Despite being one of my favorite books as a child, I have to say it’s probably OK to withdraw The Adventures of Benjamin Pink from your library’s collection, unless your library’s got a crowd of kids who’ve grown out of Russell Hoban’s Frances the Badger series and are now working their way through E.B. White and George Selden with a manic speed. Sixty years after its publication, “outdated” doesn’t begin to cover the subtext in ‘Benjamin Pink’ although I noticed none of this as a child (and it was 20 years old then). All the female characters are housewives, and Emily the ideal homemaker who finds fulfillment in packing her husband a picnic basket of radish and lettuce sandwiches to take on his fishing expedition. All the male characters have manly hobbies; they fix things around the home, they fish and so on.

However…

Is reading this book going to permanently damage kids? Possibly, but I can’t see how—watching the nightly news is probably worse in that respect, though for different reasons—and indeed the gender divisions herein might suit some communities right down to the ground. If it’s being checked out with a regularity that suits your library’s criteria, I’d say keep it and don’t worry.

1and now very outdated thereby
2famous last words!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s