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By Chris Wilson

Benjamin is a fuzzy little bear with fuzzy little friends. His adventures in life are simple and kind and quite amusing. The 27 short stories of Benjamin are designed for young hands and young readers to enjoy without being overpowered as each story is made up on 4-6 panels and only one page.

Benjamin is adorable, helpful and most assuredly incorrigible. No Simpsons-esque disrespect and no Power Rangers violence. BENJAMIN BEAR will make teachers and parents comfortable and warm while delighting young children.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 6-8
Publisher’s Rating: Grades 1-2

Lexile Level: GN 20
Guided Reading Level: G-J
Reading Recovery: 11-17

BENJAMIN BEAR is chocked full of lesson plan opportunities. From inference to prediction to math, BENJAMIN’s got it going on. Most importantly, BENJAMIN’s educational value is not just for first and second graders. Many of the lessons could be brought up to third and fourth grade levels as either an introduction to a concept or an easy chance to practice.

Science, page 13
In panel one, we see Benjamin and friends have an inquisitive nature about aquatic biomes. What is it like under the sea? The three set out to answer their question. Panels two and three show Benjamin, fish and bird walking down the beach. Fish is in his fish bowl and bird is in his birdcage – the appropriate homes for dry land life. Benjamin has an oxygen tank and mask. Once under water, Benjamin stays exactly the same.

What makes Underwater funny and scientific? The reader must read the pictures –– as I constantly instruct my students to do –– to determine fish is now in the bird cage and bird is in the fish bowl. Notice, the fish bowl is upside down. Why? How does bird not drown?
The opportunity to teach a basic concept about water tension is now at hand. It could be demonstrated and explored by young and old alike. Either way, the comic gives a nice introduction to the idea and sparks questions. Young ones may not even know it’s possible to turn a bowl or glass upside and trap water in it. Older students (middle school, high school and even college) will likely know it works, but do they know why it works?

To Jump –– Or Not
Math, page 17
Benjamin and rabbit come to a cliff. A mere 10-foot span separates them from the other cliff. Panels 2-3 show Benjamin is easily able to jump the expanse. Rabbit, however, is not so lucky. “It’s too far for me.”

I would cover panel 4 from the students and ask them to explore solutions to the problem. I might ask older students to write down their solutions in a step-by-step sequence of events, and ask younger students to verbally share in small groups. Then we might share our solutions as a whole class. Afterwards, I would reveal Benjamin’s solution. As you can see, he jumps back. Rabbit times his jump so he can use Benjamin’s mid-air back to jump again.

Remember those math questions in school, the ones about the train leaving two cities at the same time with one running one speed and one running another speed? The question: “When do the two trains meet? Here it is. Oh, it’s not for young ones, I know. But it is a visual picture and could be used to practice word problems using visuals. I know my math teachers always taught me to draw pictures and diagrams to help me understand the problems.

Inference, Visualize & Conceptualize (page 18)
Benjamin and rabbit are at the beach and want to ride their sailboat. The sail has a picture of a happy face on it. There’s no wind and the face looks funny. Why? We know it’s because the sail has slack and the smiley face is wrinkled up. Do kids get that? Can your students visualize the concept? To do so, they must read the pictures.

Look at the sail in panels 23. The sides of the sail are wobbly. There are even lines around some of the corners to show the sail is slack. If the sail is slack, then can we see the picture on it well? The teacher may even need to demonstrate by using a small flag. In panel four we see several things:

1. Onomatopoeic word “whooosh …”
2. Motion lines (the wind)
3. Leaves flying around
4. Rabbits ears pushed forward

Students must infer from the picture the wind is blowing. In panel 5 we see the wind blowing, trees leaning and the sail is no longer sad. The sides of the sail are taut and now we can see the picture on the sail as it was intended: a happy face.

At The Store
Math and Economics, page 19
Once again, for students to understand the concept of the story and the hidden messages, they must read the pictures and interpret them. In panel one, we see Benjamin walking into a store. What kind of store is it? It is a grocery store or market. How do we know? In panel one, we see the carrot-shaped sign outside the entrance. It’s a small detail that will likely go unlooked by students unless they are reading the pictures.

In panels 2-3 we see Benjamin eating. In panel 4 we see Benjamin walking by the counter. The animal behind the counter is upset. We know this because his eyes are shaped in a “V” and he says “A-hem”. What does that mean? Why is he upset? We see Benjamin is much larger than he was when he walked in. He ate food without paying for it first. That is stealing.

I would hide panels 5-6 from students. I would stop them after panel 4 and ask them how to solve the problem. If fruits, veggies and other foods he ate are paid for by the pound –– but he has already eaten the food ¬¬ how do we know how much to charge him?

Allow students to work in small groups to come up with solutions. Have each group record their solution(s) on white boards. Discuss the different solutions as a whole class. This allows for more differentiation as struggling students can see the solution, hear the solution explained and discussed as a whole class. It also expands student understanding of looking for multiple solutions to the same problem. Do not fix any misconceptions with the student solutions … yet. We want them to have a chance to process this information and discover misconceptions on their own.

Show the story’s solution and discuss. The clerk’s solution was to weigh Benjamin and then make him pay. Will that actually work? It’s a partial answer. What’s wrong with it? Allow students to discuss in groups. The problem, of course, is that we did not know Benjamin’s weight before entering the store. Weighing him at the end only tells us how much he weighs after eating food. For this to work, the clerk would have to weighed Benjamin when he came in. Then weighed him as he left.

Weight after eating (more) – weight before eating (less) = the amount of food he ate

It doesn’t end there, does it? This is a multiple step problem. Then the clerk has to find out how much the food costs per pound. Let’s just assume all the food costs 50 cents per pound.

Amount of food eaten x .50 = how much Benjamin must pay

This is a complex, multi-step problem that requires students to have conceptual knowledge of math to understand and apply. It would make an excellent “Problem of the Day”. Obviously, the difficulty level of the math does not coincide with the reading level of the book. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to. Young kids can explore the fact that Benjamin has to be weighed. It’s older kids that must explore the deeper levels of the mathematics involved.

More Lesson Plans
Toon Books offers downloadable lesson plans for students in grades 1-2.

Author & Illustrator: Philippe Courdray
Publisher: Toon Books
Genre: Animal

Format: Reinforced Library Binding
Pages: 32
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-935179-12-2

Highly Recommended


Highly Recommended