Here we have one of the most imaginative, idiosyncratic artist-writer in children’s literature, working at top form and heading in opposite directions. William Joyce, who in the past has given whimsy an ironic edge in A Day With Wilbur Robinson (1990) and the great Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures With the & Family Lazardo (1988), now offers Bently & Egg, a simple, quiet, wholly unironic work.
In Bently & Egg, Bently Hopperton is a skinny, bespectacled frog, “young and rather musical,” who wears prim pince-nez glasses and a neat shirt, tie, and vest. His best friend is Kack Kack, ”a recently widowed duck-of-the-wood” who always ”made sure (Bentley’s) clothes were clean, nursed him when he was sick, and loved his songs and drawings.”
One day Kack Kack shows Bently that she’s laid an egg and explains that when it hatches she will be a mother. Kack Kack says that she no longer has time to take care of Bently — she must concentrate on hatching her egg. Bently is suddenly a little jealous and very lonely. But then Kack Kack hears that her sister has just had seven little ducklings. ”I must go and see them,” Kack Kack says, entranced by motherhood, and she asks Bently to watch over her egg while she’s gone.
He agrees, a bit grumpily — ”silly old egg,” he mumbles — but as soon as Kack Kack leaves, the egg is stolen. A little boy snatches it away, and the rest of Bently & Egg follows Bently’s clever attempts to get the egg back. Using penciled, pastel colors and a calm, formal writing tone, Joyce makes Bently’s egg rescue a happy adventure — there’s never much doubt that the egg will be safe. Bently makes friends with the young thief’s stuffed toy elephant as well as his little sister (”She looked a bit like the boy only nicer”). They help Bently achieve his goal, and in the process Bently learns to put aside his jealousy and love the egg. A