Ben­jamin and the Word

Daniel A. Olivas
  • Review
By – August 3, 2012
This bilin­gual (Eng­lish and Span­ish) book con­fronts the issue of racism through a minor name-call­ing inci­dent at school. Benjamin’s friend James, in the heat of sore-loser­ship,” uses an eth­nic slur that is not iden­ti­fied in the text. Ben­jamin is very trou­bled by this, but his father helps him to see that the word does not define him and that he should be proud of his dual Jew­ish-Mex­i­can her­itage. The story’s res­o­lu­tion is unre­al­is­ti­cal­ly easy. In fact, it’s not so much about prej­u­dice as about thought­less­ness. It turns out that James needs to learn man­ners and sports­man­ship more than he needs to un-learn prej­u­di­cial atti­tudes. The writ­ing (at least in Eng­lish) is awk­ward and didac­tic, and the art is some­what ama­teur­ish. How­ev­er, the book does address an issue not often encoun­tered in children’s lit­er­a­ture and may be use­ful as bib­lio­ther­a­py or to open dis­cus­sions on the top­ics of prej­u­dice, or even name-call­ing. The issue is tied to Juda­ic and Lati­no her­itage but is treat­ed in a uni­ver­sal fash­ion that can be applied to any eth­nic group. For ages 5 – 7.
Hei­di Estrin is librar­i­an for the Feld­man Chil­dren’s Library at Con­gre­ga­tion B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL. She is a past chair of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries.

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