Sometimes when a declaration is emphatically stated not once but repeatedly, you begin to wonder about its truth. Perhaps it's all about perspective rather than veracity. You realize an exploration of facts is necessary before you can agree.
Other times a statement will catch you by surprise. It seems completely out of place in the context it is made. There Are No Bears in This Bakery (Alfred A. Knopf, January 8, 2019) written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach is one of those assertions. When you read the title without looking at the accompanying image, you immediately think:
"Why would anyone make that remark?"
"How would a bear get in a bakery?"
"I certainly hope there's no bear in a bakery!"
After looking at the dust jacket image, you find yourself making one more comment.
"Is that a bear in that bakery?"
Then you can hardly wait to start the story.
Each night, the moon rises,
the bread rises, and I rise.
The air cools, and the sounds
Now is the time for a whole new breed of cat to meander. When others sleep this cat, Muffin, is on the job. Muffin knows the sounds of mice, raccoons and bats but tonight there is a new noise. It is not made by the usual culprits, mice, raccoons or bats.
Peering into and walking through the slightly open window in the back of the bakery, the cat makes a startling discovery. A small bear is in the bakery. This small bear is hungry. Its stomach is grumbling.
When you have a hungry bear in a bakery there is only one thing to do. Muffin leads the way to contented consumption. And then there's a newer noise. It's a sound that stops hearts from beating. Out of the darkness comes eyes locked on Muffin.
The cat can't move. The cat is completely enveloped in fur. Finally, the sunrise begins casting light inside the Little Bear Bakery. Three beings move, the night shift ends, but the morning shift is in for a shock.
Even before the narrative begins or before the title page appears, Muffin begins to talk. Julia Sarcone-Roach's approach to use the first purr-son point of view focuses our attention precisely where it should be. We need to see everything as if we are a cat.
This cat gives us very descriptive perspectives like the detective it is. It is in these very accounts the humor is ever present. Julia Sarcone-Roach uses similes beautifully. Here are two passages.
The air was cool and
wet like a dog's nose.
Actually, it was the smallest bear I'd ever seen.
I was surprised.
The bear was surprised.
My tail was surprised.
If you can look at the open dust jacket without laughing, you need to check for a pulse. The contrast, between what the cat is stating (the title) and the bear gobbling up a donut behind it, is a stellar comedic moment. Look at the eyes on the cat. Look at the eyes on the bear.
To the left, on the back, Muffin is cozily curled on a bookshelf. To the left are four books with titles reading like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys with a cat-like twist. Muffin, much smaller, is on the spines. One of the titles is
The Mystery of How Everything Got on the Floor.
The same darkened full color palette is used in both scenes on the dust jacket, reflective of Muffin being a part of the night shift.
The book case is another contrast. Across the back and front is a shiny shade of white. Down the middle and crossed is a red and white striped piece of string, tied in a bow on the right (front). Under the bow, are rows of baked goods, donuts, cinnamon twists, cupcake, and cookies. A seal is in the exact center. It reads Little Bear Bakery under the logo of two bears, one large and one small, facing each other.
If ever endpapers tell a story all their own, these endpapers, opening and closing, do. On both are shelves inside a glass-fronted bakery case. They are most definitely before and after depictions. And a tiny mouse has something to say on the later.
Prior to the title page we are given a golden sunset shot of the town, a panoramic view as Muffin introduces herself and her job. On the second double-page picture, the title page, Muffin is shown closer to the bakery and in three separate positions. It is getting darker outside.
For each of the two-page images, rendered in
acrylic paint, cut paper, and marker
by Julia Sarcone-Roach movement by Muffin is shown from place to place. Her brush strokes create a realistic nightscape lightened only by the crescent moon's glow and reflections plus the street lights. Humor escalates in the antics of the baby bear inside the bakery; wearing a glass cake cover like a space helmet.
If there is any doubt as to the mood of any of the characters, readers need only view their eyes. Another thing Julia Sarcone-Roach does to excellent effect is place a shining outline around her characters at significant moments. (Readers will undoubtedly burst into laughter at the final wordless illustration for the dedication and verso pages at the end.)
One of my many, many favorite pictures is when Muffin first sees the small bear. On the left the cat is leaping straight up into the air with fur standing on end and wearing a stunned expression. Muffin is placed in the enlarged shadow of the bear. That shadow is surrounded by light. On the right sits the bear, wide-eyed and with paws touching each other in front of its body. A large grrrrrrrr and grrrr extends from either side. In the upper right-hand corner is a portion of the bakery case. This is a second frozen in time.
One look at this book, There Are No Bears in This Bakery written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach, and you can already hear the laughter of readers. They will be begging you to read it again at story times, bedtimes, any time and every day. I highly recommend you run to your nearest book shop to get a copy to place on your personal and professional book shelves.
To learn more about Julia Sarcone-Roach and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. She has several images from this book you can enjoy. At the publisher's website you can view other illustrations from the book. Julia Sarcone-Roach maintains an account on Instagram. She is interviewed at Bookroo.