It's downright spooky when you are looking for something and it seems to have disappeared before your very eyes, only to turn up in a place you've checked multiple times. You are befuddled by this mind quirk. If you happen to be alone, you will most definitely be giving your canine companion an appraising glance or two.
In my humble opinion there is no such thing as too many bear books, but an outspoken character in a recent publication feels differently. The Bear Who Wasn't There (Roaring Brook Press, November 15, 2016) written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham will keep you guessing every single second. Characters past and present make an appearance; some with unwavering viewpoints.
This is the story of the Bear
who wasn't there.
This is not a Bear.
Where is the Bear?
Immediately Duck steps in stating the obvious and reinforcing the point ducks are more dependable. In fact Duck thinks a Duck story would be highly interesting. Before he can get out a once upon a time, the unseen narrator turns the page asking two other animals if they have seen a Bear.
They have not and a sign hanging on a nearby tree, signed Anonymouse, directs us to page 9. The narrator decides not to skip pages and with a page turn there's you-know-who with stacks and stacks of books titled The Duck Who Showed Up.
The humor is about to hit a higher level when the next two pages reveal a giraffe in a rather private situation. A prankster mouse is the cause of this tomfoolery. Wait a minute! Duck is back as a magician? It sure is hard to get away from him. Let's keep looking for a Bear.
A boar, pear-holding hippopotamus, a naked rabbit and a disgusted cow add their two cents worth to the conversation. When the narrator is finally sure a Bear is spotted, it's another dupe by Duck. Bringing the author and a multitude of animals into the mix stirs up the comedic cauldron, delivering a delightful concoction when you least expect it.
From dust jacket, to flaps and within the body of the book (the book case too) LeUyen Pham supplies one laugh after another. (Her word play is outstanding.) Duck and the company of animals join the discussion in a continuous stream of dialogue in reply to the narrator. You can feel the tension slowly build between giggles and grins as everyone wonders if the title is the truth or a lie. Is there or isn't there a Bear? Not knowing makes the conclusion all the more hilarious. Here is a sample passage.
Excuse me, but have
either of you seen a Bear?
I haven't see a bear
Are you sure you are
in the right book?
Try the next page.
Obviously looking at the opened dust jacket Duck is disgruntled about all the attention given to a Bear who, by his account, is not even going to make an appearance. His rant continues on the right flap of the opened jacket:
...And I'm telling you now, the Bear does not even show up!
So save your money!
The color palette, distinctive line work and bright speech bubbles continue throughout the book. The book case (as does the inside of the dust jacket) tells a completely different story but my lips are sealed.
On the opening endpapers a cranky crocodile up on a ladder and carrying a broom complains about the dust in the upper, left-hand corner. Bear paw prints travel across the bottom of the page. The paw prints continue on the closing endpapers, also with a gold background. But again I will not reveal the other elements featured. On the verso a crew of mice, workers in the book's production, asks curious questions about the title on the opposite page.
Varied background hues and liberal amounts of white space highlight the characters and their comments. Their facial features and body postures will have you laughing out loud. LeUyen makes excellent use of turned up and down page corners, signs, closed and opened doors, the continuation of paw prints, silhouettes and thrown toilet paper rolls.
One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages. Duck is seated at a table with his feet crossed holding one of his books up in a wing. He has a HUGE grin plastered on his face. Surrounding him are stacks and stacks of his book, a Duck stuffed toy and a Duck mug. Careful readers will get another laugh out of the text on the page of one of his opened books.
Read The Bear Who Wasn't There written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham out loud as often as you can. Readers will be rolling on the floor at the antics and answers of the animals along with their expressions. Who knew that a Bear who may or may not be present could be so funny? This is one bear book you need to have.
To discover more about LeUyen Pham please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. She also maintains a blog you can access from her website. At the publisher's website you can view four separate page turns. (I dare you not to laugh.) LeUyen is showcased at On Our Minds: Scholastic's blog about books and the joy of reading and We Need Diverse Books.