Benny and Penny in The Toy Breaker

By Geoffrey Hayes
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

A new Benny and Penny book from Geoffrey Hayes is reason to celebrate in my home. Sure, Hayes’s books are intended as children’s books and younger readers. But while reading Benny and Penny in The Toy Breaker, it struck me (yet again) how universal some of the themes and ideas that Hayes uses in his books are to adults as well as children, and between the beautiful art and some of the more subtle moments, there’s a little something for everyone in his books.

Benny and Penny in The Toy Breaker introduces Bo, a troublesome mouse cousin to Benny and Penny. While Benny often bosses around younger sister Penny, the two generally get along with one another. It’s noteworthy, though, to see the two of them leap into terrified action when their mother (off panel) announces that Bo has come to visit. “Quick! Hide all the toys!” is such a wonderful reaction; it sums up Bo’s status as a toy breaker, as well as that this isn’t the first encounter they’ve had with them. And of course, once Bo shows up, the chaos begins.

Hayes is careful to not make Bo the ultimate bad guy, though. Sure, he’s rough and abrasive, the way that a kid who is constantly pushed away by his peers will often act. (It’s usually not until adulthood that people seem to figure out it’s the wrong tactic to take, but if you’ve ever been around children you’ll see this in action over and over again.) He grabs toys without asking, he pushes his way into games, he shows up where he isn’t wanted. At the same time, though, Hayes is clearly writing Bo as a kid who desperately wants to play with his cousins, even as they want nothing to do with him. Most notably, when toys do get broken in The Toy Breaker, Hayes is careful to never put all the blame on Bo. Sure, he definitely has something to do with each incident. But it’s only in the fighting back against Bo that we see the toys get damaged, something that parents can eventually point out to younger readers.

It almost goes without saying at this point that Hayes’s art is lovely. The characters themselves are adorable, from Benny and his pirate hat to Penny in her little overalls. I found myself impressed with how Bo manages to look both weaselly and innocent depending on the panel, but always undeniably him. For little mice, all of the characters are surprisingly expressive; Benny’s pouting, angry look as he yells and points at the map is classic, and the look on Penny’s face when one of her toys is damaged is almost heartbreaking. The soft colored pencils he draws his backgrounds with are a great addition to the finished product; they seem to almost melt onto the page, and provide an extra level of beauty to the book. Hayes is still good with sequential art storytelling, too. The layouts are always simple (since this is for younger readers), and he’s able to keep up a progression from one panel to the next in a way that is smooth and easy to read.

Hayes is three-for-three when it comes to Benny and Penny, at this point. Just like the earlier volumes in this series, it’s fun and a joy to read. (And as someone who’s read all three, the appearance of Melina from The Big No-No! was a plus.) There are some children’s books that when they arrive, you read and then find a little kid to pass along to. Hayes’s books are ones I secretly horde for myself, then buy additional copies to give as gifts. Benny and Penny might be intended for children, but this adult loves the books too.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

3 comments to Benny and Penny in The Toy Breaker

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  • Kat Kan

    Thank you – now I know I’m not alone in loving the Benny and Penny books as an adult. I’ve had the privilege of reviewing all of them for Booklist, the book review journal of the American Library Association. And I met Mr. Hayes last Monday at the ALA Annual Conference, where he received his Theodore Geisel Award for Best Easy Reader of 2009 (for Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!). He’s a genuinely sweet, wonderful gentleman. I have made sure these books are in my school library.

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