By Geoffrey Hayes
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books
I am a big fan of Geoffrey Hayes’ Benny and Penny series of comics for younger readers. Sure, they’re meant for first and second graders, but even as an adult I’ve found a lot to love about the books; the graceful storytelling, the beautiful art, the funny jokes. While I knew that Hayes has quite a few other books under his belt, I hadn’t heard of his Patrick series before now. Fortunately, with his new Patrick in A Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Other Stories, that problem has been fixed.
Reading Patrick, it made me almost instantly flash back to classic books from my childhood like Frog and Toad All Year, only in this case of course the book isn’t just prose with illustrations, but an actual comic. The little bear Patrick comes across to me as a true depiction of a child: a mixture of playful, stubborn, and silly. In the main story, “A Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” we get to see all sides of his personality. He’s scared when the bully Big Bear shows up, he’s goofy as he plays, and he’s able to turn on a dime from one subject or emotion to the next. I appreciated how Hayes shows that last one, because it’s so true when it comes to children. Patrick’s mother takes it all in stride, comforting him after a confrontation with Big Bear, but not coddling him either. His tearful complaint that the now-gone red balloon was his favorite color is accepted, but also not made too big a deal from his mother, who instead gently notes that he might feel better after they eat. A lot of Patrick is about dealing with adversity and disappointment, and it’s good to see a book quietly slip in lessons for its younger readers in a way that feels unobtrusive, and not preachy.
The other stories are fun, too. The two page spread of “Patrick Has a Nap” will ring true to both children and adults alike, with the joys and wonders of trying to put a child down that clearly does not actually want to nap. More interesting, though, is “Patrick and Big Bear” with Patrick finally having to confront the bully that scared him earlier in the volume. I like that Hayes lets Patrick get scared rather than automatically be tough and confident; it makes him a character that children can relate to much easier, and it also makes his eventual turn-around that much better. Like all of Hayes’ stories, it has a perfect rise and fall of action, and it’s a reminder why he’s such a good storyteller. (On a side note, the idea of a “Candy, Cookies, and Comic Books” store warms my heart. And stomach.)
Patrick is drawn in a soft, sweet manner; I love the gentle colors, like the pale blue in the stream’s water, or the green shading on the grass. Like so many kids, Patrick’s emotions are on his sleeve. When he’s sad, his little face scrunches up into a tight ball and the tears flow, while his excitement is easily seen as well through his big smiles and wide-eyed looks. Hayes gets to draw a little action in Patrick too; Patrick running away from Big Bear is fast and zippy, and Hayes makes Big Bear look intimidating without ridiculously over-bulked or monstrous.
Patrick in A Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Other Stories is another home run for Hayes. His stories are cute without being saccharinely sweet, and there are times when I’m pretty sure that adults enjoy his books as much as the children they’re aimed at. As a gateway to reading comics, you can’t go wrong with giving Hayes’ books for Toon Books to a young, impressionable reader. Just not my copy. I may give away a lot of the children’s books I come across, but Hayes’ are always a keeper.