Bear Wants to Sing by Cary Fagan

Cover image for Bear Wants to Sing.

Bear Wants to Sing by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Dena Seiferling (9780735268036)

This is a follow up to King Mouse from the same creative team. Out on a walk, Bear discovers a ukulele in the grass. Bear plucked a string and thought of a song. Mouse was there on a stump, all ready to listen. Then a crow arrived an found a tambourine in the grass. She immediately sang her song for Bear and Mouse. Snake arrived next and discovered a drum, which she used to sing her own song before Bear could start his. Tortoise was next with a horn and a song. Then Fox appeared and thought they should start a band and she could be their manager. Finally, it was time for Bear to sing his song. When the others didn’t praise it, he headed away. But one friend isn’t ready to let him leave entirely.

There is a beautiful delicacy to the story and the illustrations that work deliciously together as a whole. Fagan uses repetition in the story with the series of interruptions before Bear can sing his song. There is a wonderful tension that readers and the bear feel as he is preempted again and again. It’s also a treat to have a moment of such humor in the center of this thoughtful book which then returns to its previous tone but retains a wry grin.

The illustrations are done in graphite and colored digitally. The digital color is so pale that it is a whisper of color at the edges of the scenes with pale green leaves, a brown bear, and some flowers with a glimmer of pink. They are subtle and lovely, offering space for song and performance.

Thoughtful and lovely, this book explores friendship, sharing the limelight, and being true to yourself.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Tundra Books.

Sweater Weather by Matt Phelan

Cover image for Sweater Weather.

Sweater Weather by Matt Phelan (9780062934147)

It’s a lovely autumn day outside, so Papa Bear tells his seven baby bears to get their sweaters on. They head upstairs to get ready while Papa sits downstairs knitting. But it turns out that the baby bears need some help getting dressed successfully. After some disentangling, Papa gets them ready. All except for one, whose sweater unravels and he to be tucked into the stocking cap that Papa had been knitting. By the time they are all ready to go, it’s evening. The bear family makes the most of the nighttime, watching their breath frost the air and seeing a comet cross the sky. Then it’s time for pajamas on and bed.

Every parent will recognize the joy of getting ready for a day outside the house. This book is so cozy that the frustration of not getting ready quickly makes time for knitting and some extra hugs. Papa Bear is a delight of an adult character, seemingly on top of it all until the door opens and reveals how long it has actually taken for them all to get ready. With few words, the book relies on the illustrations to tell the story and share the love of this furry family.

Cozy, funny and full of autumn spice. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Blueberry Cake by Sarah Dillard

Cover image for Blueberry Cake.

Blueberry Cake by Sarah Dillard (9781534451346)

A little bear asks his mother for some blueberry cake one morning. She sends him off with a pail to pick blueberries. He walks through the woods until he reaches the huge patch of wild blueberries. He picks some and eats more. Distracted by a butterfly, he accidentally dumps out the few berries he has left. Almost back home, he stops to fill the pail with flowers from the meadow. But no blueberries, means no blueberry cake. So the next day, he tries again. This time he surprises his mother with a full pail of blueberries and she immediately makes him blueberry cake!

The little bear is a merry youngster, dashing through the woods, cartwheeling, and wearing the pail on his head. His enthusiasm for blueberry cake is contagious and mouthwatering. The text in the book is limited to only a few words with many of the panels in the book wordless. There is something marvelously charming about these domestic bears with their sunny yellow kitchen with polka dot wallpaper and checked curtains. Make sure to stay until the final page when the cake has been cut for a little giggle.

A summery sweet read. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Aladdin.

If You Go Down to the Woods Today by Rachel Piercey

Cover image for If You Go Down to the Woods Today.

If You Go Down to the Woods Today by Rachel Piercey, illustrated by Freya Hartas (9781419751585)

Enter a woodsy world full of animal characters in this picture book that invites children to find things in the busy and bustling images. Bear brings readers to his home in the woods. The first images focus on spring in the woods with green grass, flowers and bird nests. Readers then get a glimpse of each animal’s home in the woods, including burrows, nests, and trees. Youngsters head to school, and bunny celebrates a birthday underground. Summer arrives with Field Day, the beauty of life in the treetops, swimming, picnics and even a play. Autumn comes with rainy days, art and campfires. Then finally, winter brings icy sports, a winter feast and the sleepiness of hibernation.

Each of the double-page illustrations is accompanied with a poem that speaks to that season and what is happening on the pages. The rhymes are jaunty and add to the fun of the book. Then there is a list of items to spot that asks readers to look very closely at the illustrations before them. It’s a woodsy and outdoor version of Waldo.

The illustrations are a pure joy and full of small elements of charm. Flowers, grass, falling leaves, roots, berries and more fill the pages with the season. The busy illustrations show a community of creatures happily living together in the woods filled with a warm coziness and acceptance of one another.

A perfect book to curl up with and explore. This would make an ideal book to take on a summer road trip. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Magic Cat.

Hamish Takes the Train by Daisy Hirst

Hamish Takes the Train by Daisy Hirst (9781536216592)

Hamish the bear and Noreen the goose love to watch trains together. Hamish longs to take a train to the city, but Noreen isn’t interested. So Hamish set off, following the train tracks on foot. When he got to the station though, he found he needed a ticket, so he just kept on walking. As night fell, he came to a railroad yard and discovered a caboose all lit up inside. There he found Christov who was sick with the flu and too ill to go to work in the morning and run a big crane. So Hamish offered to help. He borrowed Christov’s hat and jacket and headed into the city on the train. When he got to the building site though, he didn’t have any boots, luckily he was able to find some nearby. Then it was time to run the huge crane. Hamish worked hard, running the crane from the cozy cabin. He did it for the five days that Christov was sick and was offered a job himself by the end. But Hamish was missing Noreen and took a train home, to share his adventures with her, and maybe have some new ones together.

Hirst tells a charming tale of Hamish, a bear with a taste for adventure and trying new things. He is also a very helpful and thoughtful character, helping out where he can and finding unique solutions to problems he encounters along the way. I was most impressed that Hamish was a success as he tried to help. It became a celebration of trying new things, learning and succeeding rather than what is often seen in children’s books like Curious George where helping becomes failing in a funny way.

The art is simple and friendly, capturing both the expanse of the countryside and the bustle of the city streets. Some of the pages are fully colored while others use white space and smaller images that move the story ahead. Throughout there is a sense of happy positivity.

A glorious adventure full of trains and cranes. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

Looking for Smile by Ellen Tarlow

Cover image of Looking for Smile

Looking for Smile by Ellen Tarlow, illustrated by Lauren Stringer (9781534466197)

Bear and Smile spent all their time together doing all sorts of things. Smile was always there when Bear woke up in the morning. They both liked the same breakfast and to explore the forest together. They also both would do anything for some honey. But then one morning, Bear woke up and Smile wasn’t there. Bear called for Smile but they never came. Breakfast didn’t taste the same. Rabbit suggests that Bear look for Smile in their favorite places. But even eating honey doesn’t bring Smile back. Bird comes and sits close to Bear not saying a word. Then Bird started to sing and Bear hummed along. Soon Bear started to feel something deep inside. There was Smile!

Tarlow explores emotions in this picture book, allowing all emotional states to be treated with compassion and empathy. Bear is usually very happy but some days can be blue ones, where it’s impossible to smile. Treating Smile as its own character makes the book really work well. Readers will understand immediately and enjoy seeing what will bring Smile back. They will likely expect the honey to work, and when it doesn’t that’s a great moment where only quiet empathy will work to find Smile again.

The illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache and acrylics. They create an entire world for Bear and Smile to explore and live in together. From Bear’s cozy home to the waterfalls and forests of their habitat. The landscapes are filled with bright colors of water, flowers and leaves. When Bear gets sad though, he changes from his deep warm brown to a cool blue and stays that way until Smile returns.

An empathetic look at emotions and sadness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Beach Lane Books.

The Society of Distinguished Lemmings by Julie Colombet

The Society of Distinguished Lemmings by Julie Colombet

The Society of Distinguished Lemmings by Julie Colombet (9781682631560)

The lemming society had a lot of rules to follow in order to belong. In their warren of tunnels, there was no wild behavior, no growling, no rolling and no mud. Lemmings also had to walk on their hind legs and use utensils to eat. But Bertie got tired of all of the rules, the fine dining, the musical performances and the noise, so he headed up to the surface. When he got outside, he met a bear! After trying to get the bear to act like a lemming, Bertie tried the things the bear wanted to do. With the bear’s help, Bertie started to realize that he actually enjoyed things like rolling in the flowers, climbing trees and jumping in puddles. When Bertie is gone too long, all of the other lemmings come outside too. They try to change the bear and make him eligible to join the lemming society, but he doesn’t conform well to their rules. Eventually, they dismiss him to make their new plans and are off on a vacation as a group. When they are gone, Bertie realizes that they are headed for their doom! Perhaps a big bear could save them all?

The fussy and particular Society of Distinguished Lemmings is depicted here with plenty of peculiarities, a list of their rules, and other odd things that they insist upon. The fussiness and high expectations add up to a very stifling but also funny lemming existence. The introduction of Bertie and his quest for a new friend and a new way of life is refreshing. A bear is just the right creature to be a little bit dirty and very active. The contrast between lemmings and the bear could not be clearer or done with more merriment.

The illustrations are cleverly done with plenty of details about the lemming society revealed through the images themselves. There are lots of little asides in the illustrations through speech bubbles that add to the whimsical nature of the rule-following lemmings. 

A funny look at breaking the rules, making new friends and finding oneself. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Peachtree Publishing. 

The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa

The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa

The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa (9780525555827)

A little boy lives with a bear, who sleeps in the room next door. The bear is big, with sharp teeth and strong arms. It runs really fast, is bossy and loud. When the boy tries to tell his family that they live with a bear, they tell him not to be silly and to go play outside. Outside on the swings, the boy is approached by some bullies. Luckily though, the strong, mean, big, fast bear is nearby. The bear also shows how it can be pretty fun to have a bear, or big sister, in the family after all.

Younger siblings will adore this book about living with a rather cranky older sibling. It shows both sides of having a bear in the family, from the disruption and orders to the fun games and protection they offer. The tone of the book is just right, using the bear analogy to show the sibling relationship as it becomes strained and then later when peace is made. The final little twist at the end adds to the fun.

The digital art in this picture book is done with handmade textures that add an organic appeal to the images. With a feel of watercolor complete with colors bleeding into one another, the illustrations are colorful and funny.

Missing this one might be unBEARable. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers. 

Bear Goes Sugaring by Maxwell Eaton III

Bear Goes Sugaring by Maxwell Eaton III

Bear Goes Sugaring by Maxwell Eaton III (9780823444489)

Join Bear as she goes through the process of making maple syrup. Joined by her friends, Fox and Squirrel, who are desperate for pancakes, Bear begins by getting her tools ready. Both Squirrel and Fox don’t really help much, offering a lot of side comments and once knocking a hole in one of the buckets. That hole though gives Bear a chance to show readers that all sorts of containers can be used to catch the sap as it drips from the trees. Readers will learn about the type of maple used for syrup making, about the tools used, and then the process of boiling down the sap into maple syrup. Bear does this outside with an open fire and a lot of patience. The end result is sweet, particularly for the impatient pair who have joined Bear throughout the book.

Eaton excels at making nonfiction subjects jovial and great fun. His use of Squirrel and Fox to offer comical asides makes the book great fun to read. Bear herself is knowledgeable and unflappable as she reacts patiently to her friends and buckets with new holes. The information shared here is fascinating and delivered in a way that allows readers to really understand things like why sugar maples are the best for syrup and how many gallons of sap it takes to make a gallon of maple syrup (40!) 

The illustrations are bold and colorful, inviting readers into the woods with Bear and showing in detail what the steps are to making maple syrup. Squirrel and Fox peek out from various places on the page, offering their opinions on what is happening. 

Funny and factual, this picture book is not syrupy at all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.