I Know a Bear by Mariana Ruiz Johnson
A little girl gets to know a bear who comes from somewhere that he calls The Land of Bears. Breakfasts there are sweet as honey, the land is vast, and the rivers are lovely for swimming. Even the naps are better there, they go on for months. But he can never return there, since he is in a zoo. So the little girl has an idea, something that will let him feel a connection with the wilderness and something that she can set free. It’s a powerful idea too.
Johnson tells this story in very short sentences, which one might think would be terse but instead feel slow and Zen-like. It is a book about a girl who is forging her own connections with animals, making her own decisions too. There are no adults in the story, just one little girl and one huge hairy bear. It is a book about small choices making a big difference in the world. It is simple and luminous.
Johnson’s illustrations have a wonderful light touch to them. The pages with the huge bear can be dark and filled with fur, but then the book opens to a new page filled with white and lightness. They are studies in contrast but also create a book that is a joy to read through with changes of feel from one page to the next.
An empowering story about one little girl and her connection with one big bear and the beauty of freedom. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.
Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
The co-creator of the Ladybug Girl series returns with a completely different type of book. It is the story of three little bears who accidentally break their mother’s favorite blue seashell, so they set off to find her a new one. Along the way they meet other bears on boats but only one can give them any advice about finding a blue seashell, they need to look for a hat-shaped island and then look in the right place. As they travel, the bears look and look for a blue seashell, but don’t find one. Once they give up hope, they start to argue and as they fight a storm blows up around them. They may be forced to return home to Mama empty handed, and after all, their mother is a bear!
Soman has created an exceptional picture book. It hearkens back to many classic picture books, particularly ones by Maurice Sendak like Where the Wild Things Are and the Little Bear series. It also has ties to the three bears, Beatrix Potter and even Melville. But best of all, it reads like it is a classic already, one that will be shared with children for years, and very rightly so. The story arc is brilliantly crafted, moving the story forward and also coming full circle, returning the bears in time for a warm supper with Mama. It is so strongly built that there is a sense of coming home when reading the story, but also one of surprise and delight at discovering it.
Soman’s art is extraordinary: from the faces of the little bears that show every emotion clearly despite the fur to the landscapes that are like opening a window to the ocean. There are page turns where you simply sit for a moment and linger, looking at the new vista before you until you are ready to read the words on the page.
A top Caldecott contender, this picture book feels like returning home to Mama after a long trip at sea. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Brother Hugo’s library book is due, but he can’t return it because it was eaten by a bear! So Brother Hugo is instructed that he must create a new copy of the book. First, Brother Hugo has to go to the monastery of the Grand Chartreuse where they have a copy of the book. On the way, he can hear the bear snuffling behind him, but manages to reach the monastery and safety in time. On his return to his own monastery, he can hear the bear snoring in his sleep, so he hurries back. Then the real work begins, but he has the help of his fellow monks. They must get a sheepskin, stretch it and scrape it, get parchment paper, and get them ready to write upon. Then comes making the pens and inks that will be required. Finally, Brother Hugo must sit and copy the book word for word. Finally, the book has to be bound. As he worked, Brother Hugo could hear the bear and the snuffling. When the book was completed, the monks offered Brother Hugo a clever way to get to Grand Chartreuse safely despite the word-hungry bear, but even with their help Hugo finds himself face-to-face again with the great beast looking for books.
In this book, Beebe has created a fascinating look at the treasure and value of books and the efforts that it once took to create them by hand. By inserting the question of the bear into the book, the story moves ahead very effectively, offering a nice plot point in what could have been a much quieter tale of book making. The bear also offers a touch of humor into the story, for even those of us who agree that books and words are as sweet as honey will be amazed at this bear’s appetite for books.
Schindler’s art incorporates word art that hearkens back to illuminated texts such as the one that Brother Hugo recreates in the book. Done in fine lines and with precision, the art is detailed and adds much to the story. I particularly enjoy the scenes of Brother Hugo crossing the countryside, because they clearly evoke a different time and place.
This historical fiction nicely incorporates how books were once made into a tale filled with gentle humor and one hungry bear. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Goose the Bear by Katja Gehrmann
In a Canadian forest, Fox stole an almost-hatched goose egg, planning to eat roast goose very soon. But he is so proud of himself that he forgets to watch where he’s going and runs right into Bear. Bear picked up the egg from the ground after Fox ran off and wondered what it is. Then the gosling hatched and called him “Mama!” Bear tried to explain that they were not the same type of animal, but the gosling did not understand. So Bear decided to show the little goose just how different they were. Bear demonstrated how well bears climb trees, but the gosling could reach the top too. Bear showed how fast bears can run, but the little goose ran just as quickly. Finally, Bear jumped in the river and the little goose followed him in. Then Bear got very worried. Would the little creature survive the fall into the water?
Gehrmann has created a picture book that stands out from the many books about foxes chasing smaller animals. Her addition of a bear as a main character adds a clever twist and throughout the book she continues to surprise the reader. The writing has been done to create a read-aloud that will also keep young readers guessing about what is going to happen next. With the theme of a tiny creature who can do just what a big bear can do, this book has strong kid appeal.
The premise of the book is quite unique and so is the artwork. First published in Germany, the book has a European feel, particularly in the art. It is humorous and bold with changing colors throughout. Gehrmann’s depiction of the natural world around the characters is particularly rich and layered.
Fresh, vibrant and full of fun surprises, this book is an exceptional take on fox and goose (and bear) stories. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson
Nelson returns with a picture book about a lost baby bear that showcases his luminous art work. Baby Bear is lost and can’t find his way back home. So he asks different animals about how to find his home again. Mountain Lion suggests that he figure out how he got here. Frog is rather busy, but tells Baby Bear not to be frightened. The Squirrels suggest that he hug a tree. Moose tells Baby Bear to listen to his heart. Owl reassures him and Ram encourages him to climb high and keep walking. Finally, Salmon leads him across the river and Baby Bear is home.
Nelson writes with the tone of a folktale, a measured pace and a strong structure of questions and answers. Told entirely in dialogue between the animals, the setting and action is left to the gorgeous illustrations to explain. My favorite moment is the ending of the book where there is no family to meet Baby Bear, no structure of “home” for him to return to, just an understanding and a pure moment of realization that he IS home.
Nelson’s art is stunningly lovely. He uses light and perspective to really show the story. We see Baby Bear from different angles, one amazing double-page spread just has a close up of his eyes with the moon reflected in them. Each page is a treat visually, each building to that moment of already being home.
Shimmering and lush, this picture book will open discussions about what home is, mindfulness and following one’s heart. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Come Back, Moon by David Kherdian, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian
In this quiet book, Bear blames the moon for not being able to fall asleep. So he pulls it out of the sky. Fox notices that the moon is gone and so do Skunk, Opossum and Raccoon. Crow asks Fox why he doesn’t know where the moon is, since he’s so clever. So Fox takes them all to talk to Owl who is wise. Owl knows where the moon is, since he saw Bear take it. So they head off to retrieve the moon from Bear. But how will they get it away from him?
This book has a wonderfully clear and simple story line that makes it ideal to use with toddlers. It also has a deep quiet to it that will work for good bedtime or naptime reading. Kherdian uses repetition throughout the story, having the different animals share ideas and echo back decisions.
Hogrogian’s art also has that simple style. She has wonderful images like the one on the cover that speak to the darkness and loss of the moon. Her animals are realistically depicted and appear against white or tan backgrounds with few details.
There is a place for quiet books for small children and this one has just enough activity to keep it moving too. It would make a great board book. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Eat Like a Bear by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Released October 22, 2013.
Can you eat like a bear? It means you will wake up very hungry in early spring and have to dine on sandy plants and frozen dead bison meat. In May, you will have dandelions and cow parsnips to munch but you will still be hungry, so you eat some ants. You will also eat clover and fish in icy streams for a meal of trout. In July you will catch a squirrel you dig out of the dirt and in August you will have moths to munch. September brings berries and October pinecones. Then it is time to sleep for the winter, full with all of the various meals you have eaten for the rest of the year.
Sayre makes this book such fun to read. She takes scientific information about what bears eat and makes it very accessible for a preschool audience. She uses repetitive structures throughout the book, having the bear dig and pull to find food again and again. This doesn’t just create a friendly structure for small children, it also underlines the fact that animals are in constant search for food. Sayre also makes the book inviting by using the second person format, asking children if they can really eat like a bear. I suspect many will stop saying yes when the ants, squirrels and dead bison appear in the diet.
The art of Jenkins is always beautiful, but he outdoes himself with the depiction of the bear. I shared this book aloud with my son and we both spent time lingering over the first image of the bear. Jenkins has managed to use the torn paper as fur, not only along the edges of the bear’s body but on its body too. The result is fur so plush that you feel like your hand should sink into the page.
A glorious look at bears, this book is a fantastic introduction to a creature, its habitat and its diet. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.
Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears by Jill Robinson and Marc Bekoff, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Held captive for years by bear “farmers” who kept him in a too-small cage and harvested bile from his body, Jasper’s story is representative of many captive moon bears. Now Jasper has been rescued by Animals Asia, an animal welfare organization. He is taken to their Moon Bear Rescue Center where his medical needs are attended to and he is put into the sanctuary. There, Jasper walks on grass for the first time in his life. Caregivers work to teach Jasper how to find food on his own, hiding food in toys and places to dig. In time, Jasper’s life starts to change. He begins to play more, get stronger, and make friends. Jasper is one success story among many, a testament to what rescue can do to save animals that might have been considered too damaged to rescue.
Robinson and Bekoff write in a very engaging way in this nonfiction picture book. They invest time in telling the story of the abuse as well as painting a beautiful picture of moon bears in the wild: “Far away in the mist-covered mountains of China, the moon sends yellow arcs of light across the hills, softly painting the forests with a luminous glow.” They describe the way that wild animals sleep with a sense of freedom. The prose is beautiful, clearly painting the value of these animals and the importance of their rescue and rehabilitation.
The illustrations are equally evocative. The paintings have a wonderful sense of place, showing the workers at the sanctuary and the horror of the small cages with equal attention. I particularly like the way that the opening image relates to that at the end, showing that Jasper is once again more like the wild moon bears than the abused ones.
A great book on the importance of animal rehabilitation and rescue, this book will speak volumes to every child who picks it up and meets Jasper. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley
This debut picture book started life as a self-published work. As such, it was the cream of the crop, because it is also one of the best wordless picture books of the year, bar none. Hank is a little bear, or some sort of bear-like creature, who happens upon an egg on the ground in the forest. Looking around, he locates the nest that it must have fallen from, but even though he tries several different ways, is unable to reach the nest to return the egg to safety. Night falls and Hank keeps the egg warm at his campsite all night long. In the morning, he returns to the nest and finds the mother bird there. An ingenious solution gets the egg up to the nest and before long, Hank is rewarded for his kindness.
This wordless picture book has a charm that is hard to put into words. Dudley has handcrafted all of the items on the page, from the brown leaves that blanket the floor of the forest to the unfurling green fronds of fern that add to the hopeful feeling of the book to Hank and the trees that surround him. All are photographed with a great sense of detail and also a wonderful depth of field that make it all seem real and true.
Beautiful and charming, this little book is sure to become a favorite. Time to curl up with your own little bear and enjoy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas! by Philippe Coudray
This is the second Benjamin Bear book and it is just as wonderful and successful as the first! This graphic novel offers single-page comic spreads that tell very short but very clever stories that are filled with humor. Sometimes the gag is visual, other times there is a verbal joke. What Coudray does best though is to vary the stories enough to make the book entirely surprising and great fun to read. One never knows what the next page will bring, just that it will be funny and a delight.
As with the first book, Coudray’s illustrations have a crispness to them. Done in flat color and fine black lines, the illustrations are made for fun. If there is humor to have, then Coudray does not shrink away from making it wonderfully bold and large.
This is a great book for reluctant readers and a graphic novel for elementary-aged children that belongs in every public library. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.