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.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson (9781338580839)

The author of The House with Chicken Legs returns with another clever novel based on Russian folklore. Yanka is a girl who hasn’t stopped growing, even though she is much taller than her Mamochka and her best friend, Sasha. She loves the stories Anatoly brings from the Snow Forest, tales of greed, transformation, magical trees, and a fiery dragon. After falling from an ice fort, Yanka is carried back home and awakens to discover that she has grown bear legs overnight. While her Mamochka wants to take her to a doctor, Yanka is certain that the answer lies in the stories she loves and the Snow Forest itself. So she sets off into the woods to find out how she fits into the tales and how they fit her. She is accompanied by Mousetrap, a house weasel, who she can now understand when he speaks. Along the way, she gathers new friends including an elk, a wolf, and even a house with chicken legs! Now she just has to find her grandmother, a Bear Tsarina, who may have the answers Yanka needs. 

This novel is so satisfying to read, rather like sipping on sbiten around the fire. The settings are beautifully captured without lingering on too much description: from the lovely village that Yanka and her adopted mother live in, to the glory of the Snow Forest. Fans of the first book will cheer when the Yaga and her house appear in the story, nicely pairing the two novels together. The lessons of working together to solve problems, accepting help when it’s offered, and depending on others in a community (or herd) are graciously offered to readers and shown effectively in the story itself.

Yanka herself is a heroine worth championing. Her struggles with fitting in at the village, even before her bear legs appeared, make sense to her, but from the beginning readers will see the truth of how she is adored and appreciated in her community. Numerous tales are woven throughout the book, told aloud by different characters. They become more than just tales as elements are shown to be true as Yanka’s adventures continue. She is always brave, willing to sacrifice herself, but also independent to a fault with lots to learn about friendship and community. 

Deep, fascinating and warming, this children’s novel is honey and an herbal salve for its readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: Bear Is Awake: An Alphabet Story by Hannah E. Harrison

Bear Is Awake An Alphabet Story by Hannah E. Harrison

Bear Is Awake: An Alphabet Story by Hannah E. Harrison (9780399186660)

When bear wakes up in his den under a tree, he heads down the road to find a cabin. He rings the doorbell and meets the little girl who lives there. After he devours all of her food, she is rather grumpy, but she has an idea. She gives the bear a hat and they head to town. They first go to the library to listen to stories. Then to the market where the bear must learn to be nice. They head back to the cabin and feast on pancakes together. After some quiet time, the little girl and the bear head back to his den. He is sulky and uncertain, but she helps him along. In the end, he is happily back asleep under a new quilt and with some treats ready for spring.

As with most alphabet books, this one is not about the writing really and features words that match each of the letters of the alphabet. The design of the book is more inventive than one might expect with sometimes multiple words being used or the same word over and over again to convey excitement. The real treat here are the illustrations which are completely winning. The relationship between bear and girl develops quickly with the bear far more hungry than frightening in any scenario. His hesitation to return home at the end also makes him a character children will love rather than fear. The huge bear is drawn realistically and dominates the pages, add the yellow hat with pom poms and he quickly becomes more approachable, though many in town don’t see him that way.

A wintry alphabet book about making new friends. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

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

Review: Why? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Why by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Why? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (9780823441730)

A little white rabbit is full of questions for a bear who valiantly tries to answer them all. After each “why?” comes a wise answer about wind, gravity, honey, stars, plants and much more. Finally though, the bear has had enough and heads off home. The little rabbit asks him not to go and now it is Bear’s turn to ask “why” of the rabbit. Rabbit rises to the question and answers it with the same wisdom and patience that Bear has shown all along.

Seeger takes the questions of a toddler and turns it into an engaging picture book. Parents and children alike will recognize the endless questions and the patience it takes to answer them. The turn around at the end of the book adds exactly the right ending to the story. Throughout the book has a pitch perfect tone that makes rabbit’s questions interesting rather than bothersome.

Seeger’s art is lush and lovely. One can almost sink into her greens and blues, they are so deeply colored. She manages to create a friendship from two animals without anthropomorphizing them along the way.

Simple and just right for toddlers and their questions. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.

Review: Bruce’s Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce's Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce’s Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368022811)

Nibbs, the mouse, wants Bruce to have a fun day, but Bruce doesn’t seem to be having any fun at all. Breakfast in bed turns into a messy disaster. The long walk is exhausting. A picnic turns into a feast for the ants. The boat ride is wet, particularly when Nibbs uses Bruce himself as the boat. They do make it back home in time for supper, but supper is too dainty and fancy for Bruce and dessert is even worse. By the time they are in bed, Bruce is very, very grumpy. Which is really nice, since Bruce loves to be grumpy. It might have been the perfect day out after all.

Higgins cleverly turns his picture book series about Mother Bruce into an easy reader format. His use of limited vocabulary is done seamlessly with the story. It helps that there is zany action on many of the pages that can be explained in Higgins’ rather dry tone in just a few words. The illustrations help too. Done in full color and with Higgins’ signature style, they show the story playing out on the page with great clarity and additional moments of silliness.

A great addition to easy reader shelves, this one is big fun. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (9780316464475)

A river flowed through the forest. The river had no idea it could have adventures until a big bear came along. As the curious bear toppled into the river, the adventure began. Soon Bear was joined by Froggy and they both climbed onto a log which headed down the river. Along the way, others joined them too. There was the beaver who could captain, the turtles who were worried about disaster, the raccoons who didn’t know how to be careful, and the duck they crashed into. Then came the waterfall…

Morris has written a book that begs to be shared aloud. From the various personalities of all of the creatures to the shared adventure that is filled with twists and turns, this book is full of fun. Morris uses an interesting turn of phrase throughout the book, with each additional animal and the river itself not knowing what they are capable of. It’s a great lens as each of the animals learns that they are not alone but instead part of a larger community and world.

Pham’s illustrations are zany and ever so funny. He completely captures the personalities of each of the characters as they head down the river. From their body language to their expressions, these creatures are in for a lot of adventure together. The added joy of the maps of the river as the endpages are great. Grayed-out at first, they are full color at the end.

A wild ride of a book that is really all about shared fun and community. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.