I've said it before and I'll say it again, one of the best things about working with children, especially the little ones, in addition to the high laughter factor, is you get to experience so many things anew. Year after year there are many firsts; things to see, hear, taste, smell and touch. Their eagerness to know, understand and discover is not hindered by any preconceptions. In a word, it's joy.
As humans we get to not only share in the explorations of our own young but also in those of the animal world. If we could comprehend how it might be for them, Baby Bear Counts One (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division) written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff is an appealing example. This companion to the gorgeous Baby Bear Sees Blue is as warm and engaging further bonding us to the lovable cub and his mother.
Deep down in the den,
Baby Bear perks his furry ears.
In reply to his question of who woke him up, his Mama says it is a woodpecker getting ready for winter by seeking extra food. Baby Bear walks out of the den to see one woodpecker holding one insect in his beak. Another sound plus falling acorns startles Baby Bear.
He wants to know who hit him. Answering Mama explains it is the squirrels gathering more nuts in preparation for the shifting season. When he climbs the tree, he sees two squirrels, each one holding an acorn.
At the pond beavers slap their tails. In the field deer and crows raid the corn from the still-standing stalks. Back in the forest amid the twisting and turning vines, turkeys enjoy a feast of grapes.
As Baby Bear and Mama travel in and around the forest near their den, new sounds acquaint him with animals in preparation for winter; buzzing, ker-plipping and ker-plopping, honking and expected tinging. Each sound is connected to a new number from one to ten. When the two are comfortable in their den again, circled in the warmth of each other, snowflakes fall.
Animals' survival depends on their daily sensory perceptions and abiding by their instinctive habits when summer moves to autumn. This cadence found in nature is brought to the narrative by Ashley Wolff's writing. Every time Mama interprets the sounds to Baby Bear, her sentences end with
before winter comes.
We are made keenly aware of the activity in the forest, pond and field but her use of language;
hunting beetles, collecting acorns, gathering twigs and storing up honey.
Readers learn more than counting with Baby Bear.
I could look at the pictures Ashley Wolff made printing linoleum blocks in black on Arches Cover paper for hours. Each new reading reveals the richness in her hand-colored watercolor work. The illustration covering the front and back jacket extends to the edges of the flaps. Baby Bear enjoying an apple in the meadow and Mama Bear nearby ready to pluck an apple for her from the tree are among the insects, small creatures, grasses and flowers. This scene is altered and featured on two more double-page spreads, four pages, in the book for the number seven.
Warm tones consistent with autumn radiate from all the two-page illustrations extending and enhancing this story. We may see Baby Bear with his Mama at a distance or zoom-in to focus on the animals of interest he is counting. Each intricate element is depicted with care.
This is one of those books where selecting a favorite illustration is impossible. I love them all for their color, layout (the way the text is placed within the picture as part of the design), the inclusion of all the flora and fauna (the little mouse around the den and the three hanging bats in both books) and for the expressions on Baby Bear's face at each new discovery and on Mama's as she patiently considers her answer. Ashley Wolff's gift as an artist, her love for these characters and their world, is infused on every page.
Baby Bear Counts One written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff is full of happiness, an excitement which comes with curiosity acknowledged. I can't think of a better way to begin the New Year than with Baby Bear and Mama. So snuggle in, gather one or more listeners, and get ready for requested repeat readings.
Please follow the links embedded in Ashley Wolff's names to read more about her work at her website and on her blog. If you would like to see more illustrations from the book, go to the publisher's website linked here. I certainly hope Baby Bear and his Mama will return for more adventurous wanderings.