Quote of the Month

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

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Countdown To 2019 #3 Bears

There are eight surviving species.  Of these eight, six are in trouble and facing possible extinction.  One of them can smell prey more than one-half mile away and more than three feet under the snow.  Another spends half their time in trees, even building platforms on which to rest. A third can exist for at least six months without eating or drinking or eliminating body waste. They have been known to run at least forty miles per hour.  They are clever enough to wipe away their trail to evade hunters and can spring a trap without hurting themselves to eat the bait.

When formed into toys they've comforted countless children for generations. They are beloved characters in classic and current children's literature.  We humans have an affinity for bears.

Little Bear's Big House (Chronicle Books, October 9, 2018) written and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud is the fourth companion title in a delightfully detailed series (The Bear's Song, The Bear's Sea Escape, and The Bear's Surprise).  This small guy is off and running on another adventure.

The sun streams through the pines, melting the snow and warming Teeny Tiny Bear as he naps.  Mama and Papa Bear are careful not to disturb their slumbering cub.  They don't see the frown on Little Bear's face or the restless twitch of his tail.

Little Bear is bored with life in the forest.  He seeks excitement other than among the trees.  He wonders what a little boy would do.  As he passes by other animals in his search, they all want him to stop and play or eat or hunt.  He keeps on walking until sunset.

Before him is a clearing he has never seen.  A tall many-windowed, many-floored estate rises in front of his eyes.  The open front door is an invitation he can't resist.

Running from room to room Little Bear sings, plays and explores galore.  He loves doing what he wants to do when he wants to do it.  In the middle of all this fun, a loud


freezes him.

It must be monsters, lots of monsters.  He wonders what a little boy would do.  He bravely walks toward the sound, whispering a mantra to give himself courage.  He stops. Terrified.  It IS a monster, a three-headed monster!  There are roars.  There is running.  There are tales to tell in the morning.  

Amid the elaborate descriptions of setting and actions by Benjamin Chaud runs an impish thread of humor.  He inserts just enough dialogue in his story to give us a better idea of Little Bear's thoughts.  Piece by piece the anticipation grows until Little Bear knows he is not alone.  What readers know, and Little Bear does not, is a perfect hilarious twist.  Here are two passages.

Monsters!  Little Bear hides under the covers.  And, just like a little boy, his imagination takes flight.  The monsters probably have long fangs and large claws and black eyes, not to mention grumbling stomachs!

Thump, CRASH, thu-thump, CRASH! What should a little boy do?  What should a little bear do?

When readers open the matching dust jacket and book case the night scene before them is brimming with questions.  Why is Little Bear running and carrying a floor lamp?  Why is he wearing that polka-dotted frock?  Where is he?  

To the left, on the back the image extends to show his family walking toward the clearing.  Teeny Tiny Bear is followed by Mama Bear and Papa Bear.  The local animals are on high alert.  The red opening and closing endpapers are patterned in a repeat of three plants found in the forest.  Beneath the text on the title page stands Little Bear posing like a hero attired in a cap, cape and stockings.  

With the exception of five pages all the images are double-page pictures.  With intricate details every single one tells an ever-expanding story of its own.  The smaller images on single pages accentuate the pacing and increase the comedy.  Readers will be unable to contain their laughter when Little Bear is visiting every room or playing in a series of eighteen small visuals.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is a cut-away of the large red house in the clearing.  It shows us three floors of rooms and stairways.  In each room we can see what Little Bear is doing.  It's funnier than funny at how much he is enjoying all this freedom.  

Little Bear's Big House written and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud is another fabulous title in this set of books.  I highly recommend it for your professional and personal collections.  At this link the publisher gives us an inside view of Benjamin Chaud's studio.  Here is an interview with Benjamin Chaud at PictureBook Makers.

One of children's literature's favorite bears is back. In the season of winter it's a widely known fact, certain species of bears engage in a form of hibernation but a beloved bear is having problems.  Bear Can't Sleep (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, October 23, 2018) written by Karma Wilson with illustrations by Jane Chapman is a precious presentation of exemplary friendship.

In his home in the forest,
while the cold wind blows,
Bear snuggles in his quilt
from his nose to his toes.  

We all have those nights when falling asleep is a struggle.  With snow falling and drifts getting deeper and deeper, Bear should be having sweet thoughts of summer honey.  Instead he flips from side to side under his cozy quilt.  He is wide awake!

His friend Mouse scampers inside to make sure Bear's fire is going.  He's shocked to see Bear not sleeping.  Even a cup of fresh mint tea does not help Bear drift into dreamland.  Badger and Hare stroll into Bear's den, each doing their best to help him sleep but nothing works.

Other animal friends, Mole, Gopher, Wren, Owl and Raven check on Bear.  A soothing lullaby might work.  It does not.  Finally Bear roars the truth.  He's awake and completely bored so he decides to entertain his best pals.  

As he tells a tale, they lean in, comfortable and warm.  It's a new one, never heard by any of them.  Just as he gets to the end . . .

When Karma Wilson weaves words together in this book, she fashions a gentle fabric to envelope her readers in peace and calm.  A beat is formed by the entrance of Bear's friends, their attempts to help him rest and the repeating phrase of

And the bear can't sleep. 

Lines two and four of each group of sentences rhyme like a soothing song.  Here is a passage.

"Ho, Mouse!" says Hare.
"We were just out walking.
Bear should be asleep,
but we both heard talking!"

The image on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case extends over the spine to reveal more of Bear's den.  Even though we understand by the title he is unable to sleep, he is also surrounded by all his friends.  Their concern is obvious as is his frustration.  The colors used in this illustration, throughout the book, radiate congeniality.  

The opening and closing endpapers show us the wintry woods as snow falls and wind blows.  A small opening in a drift reveals Bear in his glowing den.  There is a distinct difference in his face between the first and second double-page visuals.

Rendered in acrylic paint Jane Chapman's pictures alternate in size from small spot illustrations, to full-page images to double-page visuals.  She gives us a variety of inside views of Bear, his cave and his friends.  The size of the pictures pairs beautifully with the cadence of the story.

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  On the left we can see the snowy woods through the opening in Bear's abode.  He is stretched across the center covered in his patchwork quilt.  Badger and Hare are standing on either side of him.  Mouse is placed in front of his nose, deep in mint leaves.  In the right-hand corner, the fire burns with a tea kettle hanging over it.

Readers will come to understand this story, Bear Can't Sleep written by Karma Wilson with illustrations by Jane Chapman, ties in marvelously with another of Bear's books.  It is a must-have title for those who enjoy the series, for those who love a good story and for those who need to fall fast asleep.  Links are attached to both Karma Wilson's and Jane Chapman's names for accessing their websites.  Karma Wilson maintains an account on Twitter.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

When a call for help is answered, it's a sign of friendship or friendship in the making.  Got to Get to BEARS! (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 30, 2018) written and illustrated by Brian Lies is an action-packed adventure of forest friends intent on reaching someone in need. Nothing will stop them.

When Izzy read the note, she knew she had to go.

Izzy was a chipmunk.  The sky looked like bad weather was coming but if Bear asked her to come as soon as possible, that was all she needed to know.  It started to snow.  Soon it was so deep, she was stuck.

Scritch, a squirrel, asked where Izzy was going.  He offered to help her by leaping from tree top to tree top with her on his back. They finally reached a point where they were unable to keep going.  Bingle, a duck, was more than willing to fly the duo.

The snow storm turned into a blizzard and Bingle was blinded.  They tumbled onto a snow-covered roof.  They each decided walking should be tried again.  The duck was moving slower and slower.  When a raccoon came along, they were more than ready to ride on his back.  Snaffie kept going.  Soon only Izzy was above the snow now, guiding the raccoon.

A glow in the distance gives them hope.  Are they too late?  What Bear and all her friends do next is the very best kind of surprise.

As a storyteller Brian Lies has a gift for engaging his readers immediately.  With the note Izzy receives from Bear, a mystery begins.  To have this call for assistance come at the same time as the beginning of the snow storm heightens the tension.  We become further involved as each animal makes an appearance and offers support.  This tension and tempo increase in tandem with the depth of the snow and intensity of the blizzard.  This is why the surprise is pure perfection.  Here is a passage.

As they went, the sky darkened, the wind grew
wild, and snow stung their faces like tiny bees.
"Can't see!" Bingle screeched.  "Can't see!"

Rendered in acrylic paint on Strathmore paper the illustrations reach out to readers as soon as we see the double-page picture featured on the matching and open dust jacket and book case.  Tall trees and the forest floor are fully blanketed in snow.  A huge mound provides a placeholder for the ISBN on the back.  A lantern glows above it.  The four friends lean into the wind, determination etched on their faces.  The text and friends are varnished on the jacket.

The same shade of red in the title text is used to cover the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page Bear is leaning against her window looking out into the snow.  On the formal title and verso pages, a note is delivered to Izzy with a bear paw print sealing it closed.  It flutters down from a retreating bird who seems to be carrying a mail bag on its back.  (These are the kind of wonderful details Brian includes in his artwork.)

Each illustration speaks to and enhances the narrative.  Some of the pictures are full-page, others are small loosely framed circles.  A series of four horizontal panels extend over a double-page visual.  And then we are treated to a large image over two pages.  Brian also has four vertical panels on two pages.  Layer by layer, image by image we become more a part of this story.  You will cherish the realistic portraits of the animals and their facial expressions.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Bingle is flying straight into the blizzard.  All around the duck is dark blue and snow.  She is streaking toward us on the right side of a double-page picture.  Her right wing crosses the gutter.  The squirrel and chipmunk are hanging on for their lives with their eyes closed.  

Without a doubt readers are going to love Got to Get to BEARS! written and illustrated by Brian Lies.  They will be captivated by the mystery and adventure . . . and shocked at the surprise.  I know they will ask to have the story read to them again.  If you follow the link attached to Brian Lies' name, you can access his website.  Brian has an account on Twitter and Instagram.

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