For three days our meteorologists have continued to issue winter weather advisories. The snow comes and goes almost as if some giants are engaged in synchronized breathing. As they inhale the clouds clear so patches of blue sky appear above the mountain peaks. Heavy snowfall obscures everything except for my immediate neighbors' homes, yards and the nearby fifty foot ponderosa and tamarack pines, signifying they have decided to exhale.
This evening as another frequent squall brought in a thick curtain of falling flakes, a trio of deer slowly walked down the street. I wondered if tucked away in their minds was a picture of other deer previously moving along the same path; only all signs of humans were replaced with a dense forest of trees. Other than the ever present magpies no other creatures were around during the day; a clear sign of the deeper snow and colder temperatures.
Our animal companions' lives are dictated by clocks and conditions; some we can understand, others are beyond our comprehension. In a recent collaboration, author Kathy Duval and illustrator Gerry Turley depict one woodland resident's life during a shift of the seasons in A Bear's Year (Swartz & Wade, October 27, 2016). It's a gentle story of lessons learned under the watchful guidance of a mother.
drifts into sleep,
Earth's snowflake blanket
soft and deep.
As the first months pass two cubs are born sharing the den with their mother. They snooze together until signs of spring appear. Their growth is noticeable as they practice climbing and playing.
During the summer bushes laden with berries provide delicious meals. Streams full of fish sharpen their hunting skills. Swarms of bees lead the way to golden sweetness. Mother earth provides tasty delicacies underground if they understand where to dig.
As a chill announces the onset of autumn, mother bear locates a place for their den hollowing a hole with her claws. The coats on the trio grow heavier. Their world glows with new color.
A lingering darkness crowds out the light of their days as they shorten. Two bigger cubs get cozy with their protector and guide beginning their slumber. Sheltered from wind and snow they'll weather this winter.
No matter how many times this story is read, the beauty of the words lingers. Kathy Duval has written fifteen lyrical four-phrase poems depicting the growth and activities of bear cubs with their mother amid the shifting of the four seasons. The final word on every second and fourth line rhyme, describing with clarity the scenes in which the trio spends their months. Here is another poem.
Cubs catch fish,
find bees that swarm,
and dig for roots
when days are warm.
A light snow starts to fall as mother bear pauses with her cubs, a bird perched on a nearby spruce branch. It's a peaceful scene of serenity and security which is felt throughout the book. Gerry Turley uses a pale blue for the background for the coolness of winter balancing it with the warmth of the bears' colors and the yellow feathers on the nearby bird. To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, four circular images on placed on a white canvas. Each one features a cub during one of the seasons.
On the opening endpapers is a pattern of tiny evergreen trees, green on white. Delicate miniature flowers, pink and green, are spread over a white background on the closing endpapers. These same flowers are grouped beneath the dedication on the verso. The oval holding the title text is used again on the title page with bees swarming along the bottom and sides. At the top are two clusters of yellow flowers.
The illustrations rendered with drawing and screen printing were blended together digitally. They all cover two pages, edge to edge, sixteen in total. Turley alters his perspective bringing us close to the family and moving back to give us a more panoramic view of their surroundings. His layout is different also, moving the trio from the bottom, middle, and top of the page and displaying them more on one side, then the other or in the center of the page.
Intricate details ask us to slow our reading, matching it to the text. On the floor of the den where the group sleeps are veined leaves and needled branches. In the far distance, beyond the group of birches where the bears stroll, are three deer. Four teeny yellow birds rest at the top of an evergreen tree as the bear cubs climb. A nuthatch, a hawk, a couple of otters, a ladybug, and a fox silently observe the bears. Turley includes the same animal in the second and final illustration.
One of my favorite pictures (I love them all.) is during the summer. On a pale yellow background Turley has placed light brown tree trucks with small-leafed branches along the top and sides. The two cubs are climbing a tree on the left as their mother watches from the lower right-hand corner. They are after a hive loaded with honey. There are bees everywhere.
A Bear's Year written by Kathy Duval with illustrations by Gerry Turley is an eloquent and endearing look at the life of a mother bear and her cubs. Readers will come to understand how cubs adapt to the changing seasons and learn to survive on their own when it is time. This is more than a book about seasons and bears. It is an excellent example of how poetry can inform and appeal to our senses as images extend both the words and those sensory experiences.
To learn more about Kathy Duval and Gerry Turley and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Kathy Duval has a link to a seventeen page activity kit within the pages about this book in the news section You can get a peek inside this title at the publisher's website.