Who Is Ben?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Staring out of his bedroom window one inky night, Ben has an epiphany. Feeling at one with "the blackness itself,/ smooth and velvety and dark and safe," he discovers his own reassuring answer to two of life's most compelling questions: "Where was I before I was born?" and "Where will I be when I die?" First-time illustrator Jacobi interprets this internal drama by manipulating the play of light and dark inherent in Ben's musings-for example, she illuminates Ben's upturned face against the vast night sky. By alternating such images with warm interior shots (e.g., Ben's cozy, familiar bedroom, Ben snuggling with his mother), she further amplifies the book's comforting mood. Although Zolotow's poetic, thought-provoking text ("He felt that lovely soft enfolding blackness.../ no beginning/ no end/ he was it/ and it was Ben") won't be every reader's cup of tea, and some adults may object to its strictly humanist message, the questions it raises are universal, and the book could serve as a starting place for helping a child find his or her own answers.
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 1A picture book that seems disturbing and flawed for the intended audience. Ben looks out into the night from his darkened bedroom window, thinking existential thoughts: "He felt he was all there was. He felt he was not really here. He was really the blackness itself, smooth and velvety and dark and safe." When his mother turns on the light, Ben asks her where he was before he was born. But he feels the answer, "he had been part of that strange trembling huge blackness with no light and no sound, no beginning and no end." Ben asks where he will be when he dies. But again he knows the answer. Jacobi provides an appropriate contrast between cozy well-lit family scenes and the pictures in which a grave, questioning child surveys the black night. Though Ben's ruminations seem weighty in one so young, the illustrator depicts him as triumphantly secure. His questions are presented without any context and do not elicit any kind of reciprocal dialogue from his loving but silent mother. Families devoted to organized religion may find this book unsettling. It attempts to answer ontological questions by describing vague feelings of connectedness with the big enfolding dark, an idea that they may find nihilististic and lacking in spirituality. Children may not be reassured by the notion that we came from and return to an inchoate darkness. Few picture books on this subject exist, but readers should be warned that Ben's questions have many possible answers.Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Greenwich, CT
Kirkus Reviews
From the moment readers see Ben peering at them from the title page of this philosophical investigation, they'll know they're in for a new treat from Zolotow (When the Wind Stops, 1995, etc.).

Ben, settled into the warm familiarity of a loving, safe home, sits at a window, staring at the "big enfolding dark that was part of him, and he was part of it." When his mother comes in to turn on the light in his room and interrupts his reverie, he asks, "Where was I before I was born? . . . where will I be when I die?" He already has some understanding of the answer to both questions, in that "lovely soft enfolding blackness." This remarkable book about the oneness of life takes on questions that occur to many children—and adults—with the gentle reassurance and acceptance that is sufficiently vast to encompass many philosophies and theologies. Jacobi's luminous paintings brilliantly meet the challenge of illuminating the pitch black that is the absence of color and differentiation—the eternal void from which all else emerges. In the same way that the text anchors larger issues to a child's musings, the illustrations secure the universe-sized "big picture" to a boy's snug bedroom.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060273514
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/1997
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.37 (w) x 10.33 (h) x 0.41 (d)

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