Tuesday, October 5, 2021

No Strings Attached

There is a rare love in our world.  (If you research the types of love, it does not appear in the lists your investigations reveal except when a similar word is used in religious references.)  If you are the recipient of this remarkable love, it remains with you always, even if the giver of this affection is gone.  You simply can't forget it once it touches your life.

Our animal friends, members of our family and our communities, are capable of this love.  Their capacity to love unconditionally is beautiful to witness and receive.  Another individual in our lives is gifted in giving us this same love.  Our toy stuffed animal companions, without ever uttering a word, supply us with unlimited devotion.  Bear Is A Bear (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 14, 2021) written by Jonathan Stutzman with illustrations by Dan Santat is the story of a cherished bear and a special girl.  Without strings, an unbreakable tie is formed. 

Bear is a bear hopeful and shy.

Bear is a bear full of love.  

Bear is there to be a friend, a first friend.  Bear's availability makes Bear handy for multiple uses like as a tissue or the coziest kind of pillow.  Most importantly . . .

Bear is a bear full of love.

Bear is there for pretend parties and dress-up occasions.  Bear sails the high seas with a wild captain.  Bear is there for those scary moments, a champion and comforter.

Bear is there for bold and fearless undertakings.  As a reader and artist, Bear enjoys quiet contemplation and colorful coverings.  Day or night, Bear shares all with infinite care.

Bear's companion, a baby girl, grows into a young woman. Bear never wavers as a steadfast friend until one day, Bear is tucked away.  Bear is saved.  Years pass until what was new and then old is new again.  Some things change, but unconditional love remains.  Always.

For readers, young or old, the words written by Jonathan Stutzman in this story ring true.  Sentence by sentence we are told what Bear is.  These rhythmic refrains are joined by a single constant statement.  The repetition of words and sentence structure used in this narrative embraces readers like a hug.  As the child grows, two of the initial sentences reappear because some things do not change.  Three times, over the decades, in a poetic description, the one thing which alters is Bear's appearance, but like so many things, it is the inside that counts the most.  Here are several sentences.


Bear is a brave protector.

Bear is a bear steadfast and snug.

Bear is a bear full of love.

Each time this book is read, readers will find their appreciation for the visual interpretation of the narrative grow.  On the open dust jacket, we see first, on the right, Bear enjoying the book Little Women as Bear's girl draws.  No words are spoken here (ever) between this duo, but their mutual affection is apparent by the strength shown in their physical connection.  Bear is for the girl what the tree is for Bear.

To the left, on the back, on the same color of canvas as the sky on the front, Bear and the girl are together.  Their backs are to readers.  Hand and paw clasped; they are joyfully running toward their next adventure.

On the book case, illustrator Dan Santat has recreated the same scenes as on the front and back of the dust jacket.  There is a noted contrast.  Of this contrast, nothing will be disclosed.  It is for the reader to discover.  

On the opening and closing endpapers a darker golden yellow is displayed for the background.  Fine-lined images in black of a teapot, a teacup and saucer, and the flower shown in the center of the teapot create a repeating pattern.  Only the upper portion of Bear's head is shown on the title page peeking up from the bottom of the page.  On the dedication page toward the bottom is the child's table with two teacups and the teapot ready for a special party.

These illustrations rendered

in watercolor, pencil, and Adobe Photoshop

by Dan Santat are a heartwarming tribute to the words penned by Jonathan Stutzman.  They elevate the narrative with their insight.  The visuals alternate between double-page pictures and single-page pictures to enhance the cadence of the story.

The facial expressions and body postures convey a range of emotions, most importantly they are infused with Bear's love.  Readers are invited to pause with every page turn to notice the details. (I am wondering about the significance of the J, E, and H shown on the wooden blocks.)  Two double-page illustrations depict powerful understandings.  (My eyes fill with tears every time I see one of them.)

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the second time the words

Bear is a soft, warm pillow

are used.  The girl, now a young woman, has graduated from high school.  She and Bear are back at the tree.  Stretched across the lower branches in a colorful array is a banner spelling out CONGRATUALTIONS.  Bear leans against the tree, eyes closed and paws resting on his/her stomach.  Bear wears the girl's graduation cap.  The girl leaning against Bear with her eyes closed is hugging her diploma, a pencil stuck in her hair.  She still wears her gown, but her feet are bare.  There is an unspoken tenderness in this scene.

Bear Is A Bear written by Jonathan Stutzman with illustrations by Dan Santat is a recognition of the unconditional love freely given daily around the world by our toy stuffed animals, especially by this Bear to his/her girl.  It is a verbal and visual celebration of a friendship we all hold in our hearts.  You will want a copy of this title on both your personal and professional bookshelves so it can be shared often and widely.

To learn more about Jonathan Stutzman and Dan Santat and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Jonathan Stutzman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Dan Santat has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a book trailer.  Jonathan Stutzman and Dan Santat chat with librarian, lecturer at Rutgers, and writer John Schumacher on his site, Watch. Connect. Read., about this book.

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