Benjamin Dove interesting title, appealing cover NO how wrong first impressions can be. Benjamin Dove is the first Icelandic book I have ever read. This book has an IBBY award, The Icelandic Children’s Book Award, and Reykjavik Children’s Book Award yet I am saying my first impressions were totally wrong. This misleading cover meant this book was the choice of a little Year 3 girl who donated it to our school library. I certainly hope she didn’t read it – yes I can hear you saying what a strange thing to say.
Benjamin Dove is an amazing book but it is also such a vicious depiction of bullies that I must say it is only suitable for the most mature of Primary readers and probably would be better placed in a High School library.
Benjamin has two special friends Jeff and Manny. A new boy moves into the neighborhood and he quickly joins the boys. Roland has a very adult way of speaking and thinking but he also has fabulous ideas for new games. He introduces the boys to the world of heroic knights and all quickly make swords, tunics and shields and take the names Roland Dragon, Benjamin Dove, Jeff Eagle and Manny Unicorn.
Living nearby is an elderly lady called Grandma Dell who is loved by all the neighborhood children. The bullies strike attacking her cat and then her home of more than 40 years is burned to the ground. Our knights become heroes as they inspire the whole community to rebuild before Granny Dell is discharged from hospital. These scenes were the best in the book, a bit like those make-over television shows where all the neighbors line up along the street as a welcome home after racing against the clock to make everything so special..
All of this sounds fine but of course those bullies are ready to strike at any time and one of the friends will betray our heroes, think of Judas, with disastrous consequences.
This book reminded me the The Fat Man by Maurice Gee (a book I can hardly bear to think about), Surfing Mr Petrovic by Colin Bowles (another title with very vicious scenes of bullies) and Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. If you are a fan of Robert Cormier and can cope with the death of a loved character then I would recommend this book but only to readers who are ready for this challenge. It does have a very important message and a powerful story that will stay with me for a long time. A film was made in 1992 and you will see the tone of the book from this clip even though it is in Icelandic.
I also found a terrific interview with the author which you must read if you are considering adding this book to your reading list.