Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, November 1, 2013

To Be And Learn

Since most of us lack the capacity to morph from one form into another, understanding other people, other animals, tends to be difficult or complicated at the very least.  Yet, we believe knowledge is key to creating empathy.  How can we eliminate fear or distrust without it?

Reading is how we build this bridge; reading closes gaps in our awareness.  We read well-researched nonfiction titles by authors who are experts in a particular subject area or who have consulted with those who are indeed professionals in their field.  We also read books like Eat Like A Bear (Henry Holt and Company) by April Pulley Sayre with illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner, Steve Jenkins. This is how we learn to enlarge our world beyond ourselves.  We become the bear.

Can you eat like a bear?
Awake in April. Find food.
But where?

After being asleep four months, having lost one-third of our weight, it's easy to understand the hunger.  First though, our thirst must be quenched; a pond, a stream or nearby river might do.  With long claws for digging, snow disappears into dirt to reveal shoots of water-loving flora or the remains of another animal who did not survive the winter.

In each of the seven months until we sleep again, our lives revolve around our ability to find something to eat.  We use our nose to smell delectable delicacies, fresh green plants or a pile of ants. If we're up to speed we might run down a stray young elk or later grazing, another bear.  Taking a bath is another opportunity to catch a fresh feast.

We dig and dig and dig some more, discovering appetizers or a midday meal.  We climb heights of broken rocks to capture groups of moths at rest.  Soon it's time to collect the harvest of fruits nature provides.

We dig and dig and dig yet again to uncover what other animals have stored.  We search and seek to find a place to sleep; a place to protect us from the winter winds and snow.  It could be we'll need room for more than ourselves; mid-winter might bring surprises.

When you mesh a childhood embracing the out-of-doors, nurturing a love of nature, with an education in biology and writing, an author such as April Pulley Sayre may appear to the benefit of her many readers.  This June when attending the American Library Association Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago, in the midst of crossing the large hallway from the exhibits to the information area, I glanced at the name tag worn by a woman passing by me.  It read April Pulley Sayre.

There among all the hustle and bustle we chatted about her books.  She said she was very pleased with Eat Like A Bear.  Now, having read it multiple times, I can understand why.

Guiding us through the months spent after and before hibernation, after seeking information from those working directly with bears, she gives us the ability to walk beside a single bear.  Her poetic, rhythmic prose full of activity, encourages us to follow.  Use of recurring phrases, sometimes altering a single word, generate an easy flow.  Here is an examples.

Drink like a bear---from a stream.
Leaping trout? None about.
Bushes? Bare. No berries there. ...

Using cut-and torn-paper collage Steve Jenkins' illustrations welcome readers into the bear's life.  For this volume the bears are made with Amate, a handmade Mexican bark paper created from the bark of ficus (fig) trees.  As soon as readers see the front and back jacket and cover, they'll want to touch them. (The ants on the front cover shimmer like the tiny bodies do in the wild.)

Definitely a master of this medium, Jenkins' use of paper is astonishing in his ability to convey the intricate life-like details of each element in the pictures.  His perspectives, a close-up of the bear's head, side view, another two pages zooming in on a dandelion plant with the bear smaller in the background, two bears meeting nose-to-nose, a partial side view of their heads or the bear, neck stretched to taste huckleberries, looking from the bottom upward, will have readers believing they are participants in these monthly adventures.  My favorite illustration is of the bear seated in the meadow with the dandelions.

Author April Pulley Sayre and illustrator Steve Jenkins, have collaborated, as they did in Vulture View, to conceive an intriguing portrayal of one of nature's most commanding members in Eat Like A Bear.  This title is the whole package, a gift in words and pictures, informing and creating a link to another part of the chain we call life.  Thank you April Pulley Sayre and Steve Jenkins for this book.

To view more pages from the book follow this link to the publisher's website.  To learn more about the author and illustrator follow the links embedded in their names within this post.

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