The Brothers Zzli

Eerdmans. Oct. 2023. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780802856098.
K-Gr 2–In this import with something of a Goldilocks reversal, three refugee bear brothers come stay with a little girl who resides by herself in a big house in the forest. Invited by the girl’s bat friend to allay her loneliness, the enormous Zzli siblings fill the girl’s house with noise and dancing, cheerfully eating and cooking, setting up a train set, and installing beehives in the garden. They tell the tragic story of being exiled from their home, and the hardships they experienced on their journey to find a new one. The girl enjoys this chaotic ursine company, dubbing the brothers Yes, No, and Maybe, and in turn, being called Welcome by them. However, she discovers that the neighborhood forest creatures are hostile and afraid, espousing sentiments that “all the bears in the world will overrun [their] beautiful forest.” A policeman arrives under the pretense of dismantling the beehives, and then in a darker turn of events, the girl’s house is set on fire, forcing her and the bears to seek a more hospitable place to stay. Though the text ends on a questioning note, the later spreads depict the girl and the bears finding a welcoming community. Boutin’s fantastical illustrations have a vintage graphics feel, providing a contrast to the difficult and grim themes. The cartoonish antics of the bears and the vivid colors and patterns lighten the mood but do not detract from the heft of the story.
VERDICT A unique and touching take on the subjects of immigration and intolerance, welcome in collections alongside Yuyi Morales’s Dreamers and Issa Watanabe’s Migrants.

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