I want to start by saying that I love me some William Joyce. I remember the first book of his I ever picked up (A Day With Wilbur Robinson). I picked it up at the bookstore because I had been intriqued by the cover, (how can you not be?) and bought it that afternoon. Then I tried to hunt down the rest of his work. I love his zany sense of style, his detailed and bright illustrations, and his odd and fun stories. One of the great, and frustrating things, about having a favorite author is that there are very few stories of theirs you have never read. I finally found the last of Joyce's this past week.
Bently and Egg is the story of Bently, a rather lonely frog, who loves to paint and sing. He claims to have only one friend, a duck named Kack Kack. When Kack Kack lays an egg, Bently is jealous of the attention it gets. So when Kack leaves Bently to egg-sit, Bently decides to paint the egg to make it less boring. A little boy, mistaking the duck egg for an Easter egg, runs off with it. Bently follows the boy to attempt to get the egg back. During his journey he runs into a stuffed elephant abandoned in the garden, a little girl who is feeling ill, and a series to transportation problems. When he finally returns the egg to its spot, he is so exhausted that he falls asleep. When he wakes up the egg is gone, but it has hatched. Various friends tell Kack Kack of the adventure that Bently has been on to save the egg and he, her and the new chick become good friends.
Unlike so many of Joyce's books, the illustrations in this book are done in a soft palette of pastels. Colors are muted, giving the book a very gentle feeling. And despite the constant adventure of the book, this story seemed tame and grown-up to me. That is not said as a complaint. Instead the illustrations and the story combine to create a more touching story than Joyce's normal zaniness. Bently seems like a grown-up and I found him to be a character I identified with quite a bit. He is painted with a little vest and spectacles which make him seem practical, smart, old-fashioned, and sometimes a little grumpy. Kack Kack on the other hand seems much more frivolous but sweet.
One of the greatest parts of this book are the little songs that Bently sings, first to Kack Kack and then to the egg. As he grows to love the egg, the songs become shows of affection for him. What struck me about them is not that he sings but the wordings to the songs. Joyce uses words that we don't often hear in regular society. He always starts the songs for the egg by addressing it as an unusual name. Here is an example of a song when Bently is trying to sail the egg back.
Oh, sailin' egg, mast-mainin' egg,
Our travels have been whirligig.
I sail us to your mother, who
Sits at home and years for --"
I love how Joyce uses words like whirligig and mast-maining. This goes back to my idea about Bently being a bit old-fashioned. It is a wonderful touch to a sweet book. I enjoyed the action but the character of Bently and his changing relationship with the egg were what made this a wonderful book for me.