Benjy’s Blan­ket

Miguel Gou­veia, Raquel Catali­na (illus.)

  • Review
By – March 8, 2021

When an author and illus­tra­tor take on the chal­lenge of rein­ter­pret­ing a clas­sic, they face an inevitable chal­lenge. In Benjy’s Blan­ket, Miguel Gou­veia and Raquel Catali­na offer a new approach to the clas­sic Yid­dish folk­tale and song about a hum­ble gar­ment that even­tu­al­ly dis­in­te­grates, but sur­vives in the form of a metaphor about the per­ma­nence of sto­ry­telling. Although read­ers will be remind­ed of both Simms Taback’s Joseph Had a Lit­tle Over­coat and My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth and Bar­bara McClin­tock, Benjy’s Blan­ket engages with the idea of tran­sient objects and last­ing lan­guage in a unique way. Where the ear­li­er clas­sics used rhyth­mic lines to involve read­ers, Gou­veia con­structs a qui­et and mat­ter-of-fact nar­ra­tive of a boy and his grand­fa­ther, illus­trat­ed by Catalina’s emo­tion­al­ly evoca­tive pic­tures. The result is an unfor­get­table pic­ture book about inter­gen­er­a­tional bonds.

Ben­jy is the recip­i­ent of a spe­cial gift, a beau­ti­ful blan­ket for his cra­dle” from his tai­lor grand­fa­ther. Read­ers first see Ben­jy as an infant, peace­ful­ly sleep­ing while cov­ered with this com­fort­ing item. Soon he grows old­er, and imag­i­na­tive­ly repur­pos­es the blan­ket as a super­hero cape. When his moth­er rather insen­si­tive­ly sug­gests throw­ing the blan­ket away, Ben­jy replies that he needs it to fly. Benjy’s mother’s skep­ti­cism stands in con­trast to Benjy’s faith in his grand­fa­ther, whose pow­ers of cre­ativ­i­ty as a tai­lor extend to sus­tain­ing life itself. In fact, the boy’s rela­tion­ship with his grand­fa­ther is the foun­da­tion of his sense of secu­ri­ty, almost a mag­ic tal­is­man guid­ing him through child­hood. When Ben­jy los­es the last rem­nant of the shrink­ing blan­ket — a but­ton — Benjy’s moth­er again dis­ap­points by sen­si­bly ask­ing what Grandad can do with noth­ing. Benjy’s response echoes the voice of every child who has been giv­en the gift of con­fi­dence by an old­er men­tor: I’m not sure … but Grandad always knows what to do.”

Catali­na cap­tures the story’s poignant sense of inevitable decline as well as its uplift­ing reminder that chil­dren will even­tu­al­ly become inde­pen­dent through both assim­i­lat­ing and renew­ing the val­ues of their elders. The grandfather’s lined face and stooped body depict old age real­is­ti­cal­ly, but his strength as a care­tak­er is undi­min­ished. Catali­na also shows Ben­jy matur­ing from a tod­dler reach­ing out to hug his grand­fa­ther to an old­er boy ener­get­i­cal­ly play­ing soc­cer. In one illus­tra­tion, the thought­ful grand­son watch­es his grand­fa­ther repair the blan­ket at his sewing machine and tries on the result­ing vest in front of the full-length mir­ror that reflects his growth. Oth­er illus­tra­tions are care­ful­ly arranged still lifes of the tools of Grandad’s trade: a pat­tern piece, a flat iron, a piece of chalk guid­ed by the old man’s hand.

A tran­si­tion­al scene of birds fly­ing through the sky on a windy day hints at even­tu­al loss. Grand­fa­ther and grand­son wave good­bye to one anoth­er but they have one more project to real­ize, this time togeth­er. The book moves with great del­i­ca­cy to the realm of metaphor, as Ben­jy dis­cov­ers that, although noth­ing of his grandfather’s orig­i­nal cre­ation remains, he is now old enough to pick up the thread of his grandfather’s life by writ­ing a sto­ry. The con­clud­ing pages show a young hand writ­ing on a notepad and an old­er one rest­ing on a sur­face sur­round­ed by but­tons, thread, and pins. While the orig­i­nal folk song play­ful­ly sug­gests that one can cre­ate some­thing from noth­ing, Benjy’s Blan­ket replaces that notion with clear evi­dence of what is left. The grandfather’s lega­cy of ded­i­ca­tion and love are the good enough mate­r­i­al” that the boy will trans­form into last­ing words.

Par­ents, grand­par­ents, and oth­er care­givers may want to share this high­ly rec­om­mend­ed sto­ry as a read aloud.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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