Let's suppose you are celebrating a holiday for the first time. You may or may not be aware of all the customs associated with this festivity. For each person, family or group observing this holiday, there are additional traditions attached to the event. These unknowns are rather daunting in contrast to your natural excitement.
If you happen to be sharing a holiday for the first time with a new friend, for all those stated reasons it can be stressful. The ever cheerful mouse and the grumpy bear for which readers have great affection are back in their sixth offering. A Christmas for Bear (Candlewick Press, September 19, 2017) written by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton is one of those stories to be read aloud as a part of your celebratory rituals for years and years to come.
Bear had never had a real Christmas.
All the trimmings and food associated with Christmas have been absent in Bear's life. This year was different. He had everything one could possible want to have the best possible Christmas, especially the pickles. (Pickles?)
One evening, he heard the familiar
tap, tap, tapping
announcing the presence of Mouse at his front door. Dressed from head to toe in red and carrying a holly sprig, Mouse entered, as exuberant as ever. Bear was having a party this year. The first thing Mouse wanted to know was if it was time to open gifts.
True to his nature, Bear thought that was rather unseemly. They would sit, look at the tree, eat a little food, sip tea and Bear would recite a poem. When Bear left the room to get the pickles, Mouse vanished. Bear finally discovered him upstairs under his bed. He might have been looking for a present, his present.
Each time Bear left to bring in food, Mouse was nowhere to be found when he returned. Eventually the party settled into a dignified state until Bear started the poem. The atmosphere was suddenly charged with shouts, enlightenment and glee. A tradition transpired to reveal the depth of the growing friendship.
As readers have come to expect Bonny Becker begins the book with a short paragraph providing us with insights into Bear's current outlook and state of being. When we then read the words
tap, tap, tapping,
it's like a once upon a time for this and the previous titles to begin. We know Mouse is going to supply us with his sunny disposition in contrast to Bear's crotchety characteristics.
A cadence is generated with their back and forth verbal exchanges and actions. These also provide for the story's humor, building to a resolution which will have readers smiling, if not exclaiming with joy. Here is a sample passage.
The scurry sound was under his bed!
"Yes?" came a muffled voice.
"Are you looking for a present?"
Mouse peeped out from under the bed; he had a bit of dust on his nose.
"Perhaps," said Mouse.
What readers enjoy seeing prior to opening a book is found on the matching dust jacket and book case. On the front Bear and Mouse are decorating a Christmas tree, clearly a prelude to the story. The title text is red foil. To the left, on the back, amid a pale blue and white tiny, checked pattern is a small oval image. It's a close-up of Mouse next to an evergreen outside in a wintry setting. This is a hint of what the conclusion will bring.
For the opening and closing endpapers on a muted, golden-yellow canvas illustrator Kady MacDonald Denton has placed stars, candy canes, gingerbread bears and pickles. With a page turn after the opening endpapers, on a crisp, white background, is another hint of what is to come. The verso and title pages host a gorgeous winter scene in the familiar setting of the forest and field surrounding Bear's tall Tudor-style home. A Christmas wreath hangs on Bear's front door.
Rendered in watercolor, ink and gouache the pictures throughout this book span across two pages, single pages and sometimes share a single page with other smaller images. The delicate lines, soft colors, intricate details invite readers into the story of Bear and Mouse. The decorations throughout the home, the traditional fireplace, the wood stove in the kitchen and comfy furniture all contribute to the welcome. The layered brush strokes provide texture, light and shadow.
What makes the visuals extra special is the depiction of Bear and Mouse. Each of them is given individual physical characteristics which endear readers to them. Their expressive eyes, the movements of their hands, Mouse's tail and ears and their attire all work together.
One of my favorite of many illustrations is a spectacular picture of Bear's living room. The Christmas tree, fully decorated with candles burning brightly, is standing near the fireplace with a festive garland draped on the mantle. On the left page, Bear, wearing a full-length apron with an evergreen tree in the center and a chef's hat, is frozen near his chair. He has just come from the kitchen carrying an elegant dish loaded with pickles. Mouse is suspiciously absent.
Once you've read A Christmas for Bear written by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton, you'll want to start planning all those special little things people do for those they love at Christmas. The relationship between this duo has grown but their individual personalities still shine and bring giggles and grins to readers. This title is a wonderful addition to the series and to holiday collections.
To learn more about Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. At the publisher's website you can view an interior image. A Bedtime for Bear and The Sniffles for Bear were highlighted on this blog.
UPDATE: Bonny Becker is featured at PictureBookBuilders on December 11, 2017.