I may have mentioned a time or two before but sometimes when I get a new book by an author and an illustrator whose work I appreciate and admire, I don't read it right away. I keep it in view, anticipating the moment when I open it for the first time; like I do with a present. I am careful when I do open it, looking at the jacket, cover, endpapers and title page before I even start the story.
Erin E. Stead is one of those books.
It is almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy.
Before Bear will let himself go to sleep, he has a story he feels the need to tell. He first goes to Mouse. But Mouse has seeds to gather. Bear helps him and watches him burrow into the ground to wait out winter.
Duck has no time for a story needing to fly south. Frog has to find somewhere to sleep out of the cold. When Bear looks for Mole, he listens but Mole is already deep asleep, deep down in the earth.
As the snowflakes drift down, Bear, too, lets himself go to asleep, story untold. Excitedly, Bear awakens to the warmth of spring eager to tell his tale. As his friends slowly shake off the seasonal shift and slumber, Bear helps each one adjust to this season as he helped each one get ready for the last.
A moon rises in the darkening sky. Bear sits upon a log with Mouse, Duck, Frog and Mole around him ready to listen. But Bear has a problem. His friends speak up as friends do, everything coming full circle.
As the text written by Philip C. Stead is read you can't help but feel he has leaned over and whispered to you, "I have something to tell you. Listen." His words truthfully, gently, softly beckon you to follow Bear. And you do because of the way he writes.
As Bear progresses from one of his friends to the next we know he is getting sleepier and sleepier by the descriptive language and comparisons. We can picture him and his friends in the woodsy surroundings through sensory phrases. Every carefully told action Bear takes depicts his kindness, his patience. Mouse, Duck, Frog and Mole respond naturally, instinctively, to their world and to Bear.
It's the illustrations of Erin E. Stead created with crushed dry pastels and pencil (her favored medium) that illuminate the narrative further, evoking a sense of peace, a quiet presence. Every feature of Bear, his face with expressive eyes, black nose, his large rounded stomach, arms and paws are very much bear but more. The way he looks when he walks, his stance when he bends over to offer assistance to Mouse, how he holds his arm outstretched to check the wind's direction, how he gazes upward at the snowflakes, are all done with a reverent grace, a respect for the story.
Tiny details on Mouse, Duck, Frog and Mole offer insights into their personalities but do not stray from their natural appearances. As readers turn the pages different backgrounds, sometimes mostly white with a few stray leaves and Bear's sitting log, distinctive tree branches awash in fall colors, or varying shades of blues and blue-greens signifying a change in seasons or time of day. I have so many favorites but the one of Bear lying down, head on paws, with Mouse, Duck and Frog waiting with him for Mole to pop out of his hole in the evening is simply beautiful.
Authors Norma J. Livo and Sandra A. Rietz in Storytelling: Process & Practice, state:
"Story" is a mystery that has the power to reach within each of us, to command emotion, to compel involvement, and to transport us into timelessness.
Through the combined, award-winning talents of Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead readers enter the marvelous mystery of story in Bear Has a Story to Tell. We are witness to its rhythm, its invitation and how everyone has a story to tell in their own time.
Follow this link to an interview of Erin E. Stead at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast where she discusses her work. Here is an interview given by both Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead to Publishers Weekly, Life After The Caldecott: Erin and Philip Stead.