February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Great Books: A Bullish Market for Bears


Ranging from factual to fantastical, reassuring to rambunctious, bedtime-worthy to sidesplitting read-aloud, this selection of picture books starring ursine protagonists is sure to captivate young readers and listeners.

The Bear and the PianoThe Bear and the Piano. By David Litchfield. Illus. by author. Clarion. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544674547; ebook $16.99. ISBN 9780544866607.
PreS-Gr 2–After finding a “strange thing” in a forest clearing, a cub returns to it repeatedly and gradually teaches himself to play “magical melodies” that mesmerize his furry cohorts. Now fully grown, the bear dreams of the bigger world and accompanies a father and daughter back to the city, where he attains fame and fortune as concert pianist. However, something is still missing, and though he worries about how his old friends will react, he returns to the woods, where he’s greeted with open arms and the reassurance that “no matter where he went, or what he did, they would always be there.” Filled with crystalline light, the illustrations enchantingly depict the settings along with the story’s comforting message about coming home.

The Bear ReportThe Bear Report. By Thyra Heder. Abrams. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781419707834; ebook $15.54. ISBN 9781419707834.
K-Gr 2–Bored with her homework assignment, Sophie blithely scribbles down the three required facts about polar bears (“They are big. They eat things. They are mean.”) and heads for the TV. Ennui turns to excitement, however, when the amiable and giant-size Olafur appears in the girl’s living room and transports her to his homeland for an imagination—and fact—filled Arctic adventure. Heder’s water-color-and-ink artwork provides an ebullient introduction to Olafur’s fascinating world and a good time shared by two new friends.

The Bear’s Surprise. By Benjamin Chaud. Illus. author. Chronicle. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452140285.
PreS-Gr 2–Little Bear emerges from his cozy cave one spring day and heads off to find Papa Bear, a pursuit that leads across a mysterious forest path, through a subterranean cavern, into an orange pipe and out of a washing machine, and onto a circus stage where he is shot from a cannon before being reunited with his family of ursine acrobats (including new sibling, Teeny Tiny Bear). This latest volume in Chaud’s seek-and-find series features lively detail-packed artwork, a clever die-cut book design, and the potential for hours of pore-over-the-pages fun.

A Beginner's Guide to Bear SpottingA Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting. By Michelle Robinson. Illus. by David Roberts. Bloomsbury. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681190266.
K-Gr 4–An intrepid youngster heads off into the woods for a nature walk, flannel jacket zipped, coffee-toned skin and rosy cheeks peeking out of balaclava hat, and large backpack secured. Meanwhile, tongue-in-cheek text trumpets guide-book-style advice about traveling in bear country: “Black bears are dangerous and BLACK. Brown bears are dangerous and BROWN…Don’t worry. Chances are you won’t even SEE a bear.” “Lucky” enough to happen upon one of each species, the child tries to follow the increasingly useless directions, but soon discovers that survival might require going off plan. The autumn-hued illustrations humorously depict the effects of a cleverly deployed pack of bubble gum, the irresistible allure of a stuffed blue teddy bear, and the consequences of ignoring the narrator’s final warning to only “snuggle up to the stuffed kind” of bear. A wry and offbeat romp.

A Brave BearA Brave Bear. by Sean Taylor. illus. by Emily Hughes. Candlewick. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763682248.
PreS-Gr 1–On a hot day, a young bear and his dad decide to head to the river for a swim, but first they must travel through the forest and across rocky terrain. Determined to impress his father with the biggest jump ever, the youngster gets ready, gets set…and takes a tumble. With Dad’s gentle encouragement, the shaken-up cub courageously carries on and walks to their destination, where the two contentedly play around and cool down. Told in an authentically childlike voice, this satisfying tale of aiming high and learning to take failure in stride is illustrated with digitally colored pencil drawings that delineate the lush summer setting and a delightful father-son bond.

Finding WinnieFinding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. By Lindsay Mattick. Illus. by Sophie Blackall. Little, Brown. 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316324908; ebook $9.99. ISBN 9780316388023.
K-Gr 4–Traveling by train across Canada to serve in World War I, a young veterinarian rescued an orphaned bear cub from a trapper and named her after his hometown of Winnipeg. Winnie trained alongside the troops, was adopted as official mascot, and accompanied the regiment to England. Before shipping out to France, Harry left his cherished companion at the London Zoo, where the bear was eventually befriended by a young boy named Christopher Robin Milne (who dubbed his own stuffed bear Winnie-the-Pooh in her honor). Written by Harry’s great-granddaughter and illustrated with Blackall’s warm-hued paintings, this true tale blends the lilting tone of an oft-told bedtime story, the intimacy of a family memory, and the heart-soaring gratification of a happy surprise. An appended “Album” includes archival images and photos.

Horrible BearHorrible Bear! By Ame Dyckman. Illus. by Zachariah OHora. Little, Brown. Apr. 2016 Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316282833; ebook $9.99. ISBN 9780316271233.
PreS-Gr –When a snoozing critter accidentally crushes a gone-astray kite, its young owner is absolutely furious; curly orange hair erupting and freckles blazing, the girl shouts “Horrible Bear!” and stomps back home. Enraged at being falsely accused, Bear practices some fiery behavior of his own and heads down the mountain to give her what for. However, when he’s greeted by tears and a heartfelt apology (the girl, still fuming, had inadvertently torn the ear off her favorite stuffie and experienced an epiphany), Bear’s tantrum fizzles and forgiveness abounds. Spirited text and amusingly detailed artwork tell a tale packed with humor, insight, and child appeal.

I Am BearI Am Bear. by Ben Bailey Smith. illus. by Sav Akyuz. Candlewick. Mar. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763677435. ebook $16.99. ISBN 9780763691295.
PreS-Gr 2–“I am Bear./And I am bare./The suit I wear/has purple hair.” After zipping himself into his glossy grape colored outfit, the audacious narrator strikes a pose and then continues to boast about his antics, most of which exasperate the book’s other characters (he eats all of the bees’ honey, plays a knock knock joke on a squirrel, paints a target onto a sleeping pink bear’s rear end, and more, before bounding off into the sunset). Beat-bursting text and bold and bright artwork introduce a bear who takes the cake for outrageous attitude and unadulterated silliness.

Little OneLittle One. by Jo Weaver. Illus. by author. Peachtree. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-56145-924-7.
PreS-Gr 1–Emerging from their winter den, Big Bear and her Little One explore the wonders of their woodland home throughout the seasons. Realistic in tone, the lovely charcoal illustrations blend motion with varying textures and contrasts of shadow and light to show mother and cub walking through a forest stirring with new life, swimming across a lush summer lake, picking ripe autumn berries from dense branches, or finding their way back to their winter hideaway through wind-driven snow. This elegant book provides an inviting portrayal of nature along with an endearing parent-child interlude.

Mother BruceMother Bruce. By Ryan T. Higgins. Illus. by author. Disney/Hyperion. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-148473088-1.
PreS-Gr 2–Bruce, a grumpy bear with an off-putting unibrow, likes only one thing—eggs, collected (or more accurately purloined) fresh from the nest and cooked into fancy found-on-the-internet concoctions. He’s busy preparing a taste-bud-tantalizing treat when he’s “met with an unwelcome surprise”—his goose egg ingredients manage to hatch before hard boiling, and suddenly, four goslings are perched on the pot and cheerfully chirping, “MAMA!” Since no amount of scowling, roaring, or creative planning (think giant slingshot) rids him of his unwanted offspring, Bruce resignedly—and hilariously—makes the best of the situation, and an unconventional family is born. Deadpan text is expanded via humorously earth-toned artwork to create a tale at once drolly funny and emotionally uplifting.

Nanuk the Ice BearNanuk the Ice Bear. by Jeanette Winter. Illus. by author. S&S/Beach Lane. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481446679.
PreS-Gr 1–Understated text and striking folk-art-style illustrations introduce the day-to-day life of a polar bear as well as an important environmental issue. Small rectangular paintings show Nanuk as she hunts for food, dances “a dance of courtship,” digs a winter den, welcomes two cubs, and teaches them how to survive, before returning to her solitary existence. But things are changing in her “quiet white world,” a transformation subtly indicated in the book’s backdrops, which portray a gradually rising pastel sea, an unrelenting surge that eventually engulfs all white space. As Nanuk, perched on a lonely ice floe, dreams of the snowfall that would restore her Arctic environment, youngsters are left with much to consider and discuss.

Shh! Bears SleepingShh! Bears Sleeping. By David Martin. Illus. by Lou Fancher. Penguin. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670017188.
PreS-Gr 2–Succinct, rhyming text and stunning soft-edged oil paintings track an American black bear, followed by her cubs, as they venture from their winter den to spend spring, summer, and fall filling tummies (with “berries, honey/Maybe bees/Bugs and grubs/In rotten trees”), climbing and cavorting, and growing big and strong. Colder weather means it’s time to return to their cozy cave where “Bears pile/In a heap/Bears yawn/And fall asleep”—that is until springtime, when they emerge again (this time the now much-larger offspring take the lead). Young readers will be charmed by the exquisite artwork, and informed by the appended spread of bear facts.

Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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