When you've been involved in the realm of children's literature for nearly forty-five years there are authors and illustrators whose contributions and creations have been partners with you. You have had the distinct privilege to read almost every book they've brought into the world, marveling at their singular styles in writing and in their artwork. Many of their books are your best friends. You've witnessed how they've touched the hearts of readers.
There is one such author and illustrator whose bears, real and teddy, call out his name. In his newest title, Baby Bear's Book of Tiny Tales (Little, Brown And Company, February 13, 2018), David McPhail further endears readers to his charming furry characters. This little guy has a knack for finding what needs to be found.
Baby Bear Finds a Boot
Baby Bear was fishing. He did not catch a fish. Instead, he caught a boot.
In this first of four short stories Baby Bear's kindness in returning the boot to its proper owner introduces us to his forest friends. Timmy Squirrel, Bobby Raccoon and Daisy Skunk all have perfectly good reasons the boot is not their boot. With a bit of homonymic humor Ollie Owl cannot give Baby Bear a straight answer. A sleepy Papa Bear finally provides a solution.
One day walking in the woods, Baby Bear finds a flower of exquisite beauty. His first thought is to pick it for Mama Bear. Daisy Skunk warns him to not pick the flower due to its rarity. When Baby Bear learns the meaning of rare he has to agree with Daisy. In a burst of ingenuity Daisy has a surprisingly excellent idea.
Leaning against a tree trunk in the third story, Baby Bear is startled by the presence of a baby bird that falls out of its nest. First scaring away a hawk, Baby Bear decides to stay with the tiny creature until the mother returns. Her plan to get the little bird back in its nest does not work but Baby Bear's method works wonderfully.
As Baby Bear goes from one friend's home to the next he finds himself in the forest alone. No one can play with him. Suddenly hearing voices he decides to explore. To his delight a little girl is picnicking with three of her toys, her best buddies. After sharing sandwiches and tea together the little girl has a secret to share with Baby Bear. Her revelation leads to four more surprises.
In each of these four stories readers will be charmed by Baby Bear, his friends and parents. David McPhail has a gift for knowing what will appeal to his younger readers (and those reading to them). The majority of each tale is told through conversations but when narrative is woven into those chats, it is done so with skill. Here is a passage.
"What is rare?" asked Baby Bear.
"It means that this flower could be the only one left in the whole wide world," said Daisy.
"Oh dear," said Baby Bear. "But I wanted to take it home to Mama Bear."
Baby Bear and Daisy Skunk sat down beside the flower.
They were quiet for a long time.
Upon opening the dust jacket, the golden yellow background patterned in tiny stems and leaves extends over the spine to the edge of the back on the left. Each of the four tales is represented with the eight tiny images of Baby Bear on the circle of leaves surrounding the title text. The circle of leaves is replicated on the back. Within the circle we read about the book's contents. Four new pictures of Baby Bear reflect the contents of each story. (I am working with an F & G. To see the book's case cover @LittleBrownYR tweeted out a picture today.)
On the opening and closing endpapers the same intricate pattern of stems and leaves is found in two shades of a sage green. Beneath the text on the title page within a tiny border of leaves, Baby Bear is leaning over the edge of the stream watching his bobber float in the water. A lovely frame of branches and leaves surrounds the verso information and the table of contents. Cupped by branches are a tiny picture of Baby Bear, a red boot, a rare flower (lady's slipper), a baby bird (robin) and a waving little girl. These branches, leaves and small illustrations head the beginning of each story.
Rendered in pen and ink and watercolor on Strathmore Drawing Paper the illustrations are softly framed in white on single pages. They are loosely circular. In each of the tales there is one picture which spans two pages. The fine lines and delicate details are sure to prompt sighs and attract readers to each depiction.
One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages. It is in the first story when Baby Bear is trying to find the owner of the red boot. Tired from searching, Baby Bear is resting against a tree in the forest next to the stream. His fishing pole with the bobber attached is leaning against the same tree. What Baby Bear can't yet see but what readers can see is Papa Bear fast asleep sitting on the bank of the stream. His feet are dangling in the water as he clasps his fishing pole. One of his feet is decidedly different than the other. (I can hear the gasps of readers already.) The watercolor shading is gorgeous in this picture. It's breathtaking in all of them.
For a title on friendship and items found, this collection of stories, Baby Bear's Book of Tiny Tales, written and illustrated by David McPhail is happiness you can hold in your hands. Baby Bear has a huge heart and his ability to extend compassion in any given situation will appeal to all readers. You will want to add this title to your collections to use during a story time featuring beloved bears.
To learn more about David McPhail and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access a website featuring him. You will appreciate his handwritten note with a painting highlighted there. This is an older but great post about David McPhail at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.