Picture Book Round-Up, Part Two:
Three new titles you can’t bear to miss

h1 May 10th, 2007 by jules

Bah-dum-ching. Awful pun. Sorry. Yup, more from my huge stack of new picture book titles that please me for one reason or another, and I grouped some of the ones about bears together here in this post, ’cause, uh, I’m a dork. And ’cause I have such a huge pile of great books about various topics and with all kinds of protagonists — animal or not — that I can.

Thank You Bear
by Greg Foley
Penguin Group
March 2007
(library copy)

This picture book is a gem, a little sparkly, shinybright gem. At the Thank You Bear site, you’ll see that someone has said, “It’s the new Emperor’s New Clothes” (actually, that someone who said that is Karl Lagerfeld. Yes, the fashion designer. The Thank You Bear site has all kinds of celebrity endorsements — from David Bowie to David Byrne to Michael Stipe — if you care about that kind of thing). I get the Emperor vibe, but I think it has more of a Carrot Seed sensibility about it . . . “Early one morning, a little bear found a box,” the book opens. We, as the reader, aren’t sure what is in the box, if anything, but we do know that the little bear looked inside and said, “‘Why, it’s the greatest thing ever! Mouse will love this.'” But when he shows the box to the monkey, the owl, the fox, the elephant, the squirrel, and the bunny, they all — in one way or another — rain on his parade. Each one peers into the box and either belittles bear’s gift idea, flat-out dimisses it, or even scolds bear in some way (Fox telling him, “‘{y}ou’re holding it the wrong way'”). The bunny doesn’t even have a moment to stop and revel in the little bear’s joy. Starting to doubt whether it’s such a good gift after all, Mouse appears, asks the bear what he has, and then stares at the box “this way and that.” We then see that it’s simply an empty box, and Mouse crawls inside, declaring “‘{i}t’s the greatest thing ever! Thank you, Bear'” . . . This is Foley’s first picture book, and he’s an award-winning graphic designer. His artwork is free from any and all clutter, the animals in their white space drawn in simple, black-ink lines and colored (digitally, it appears) with muted pastels (the corresponding page of text on the left washed in the same color as the animal appearing in that spread), and it all has a rather retro look. But, instead of retro for retro’s sake, it all comes together well, and it all works. The book has a big ‘ol pumping heart at its center (and I love how, when Bear finds the box, it’s glowing from inside, I must add). It’s not just the illustrations that employ a minimum of line and shape; the text is economical and, as Publishers Weekly put it, stripped down to its very essence. Each word has been chosen with great care. A School Library Journal reviewer wrote, “listeners, particularly those who understand the value of leaves and stones and bottle caps, will love this book.” True, but I think much more lies at the heart of this story — it’s a tale of faith, trust, and belief on the part of a child living in a world often rife with antagonism and whole heapin’ doses of cynicism (often coming from adults themselves).

Bad Bears Go Visiting (Irving & Muktuk Story)
written by Daniel Pinkwater and
illustrated by Jill Pinkwater
Houghton Mifflin
April 2007
(library copy)

Welcome to the fourth adventure of Irving and Muktuk, two bad bears. They’re playing cards (cheating each other, of course) when their friend, Larry, arrives for a visit. He’s got a cake with little fishes on it, so they eat, play volleyball (Irving and Muktuk cheat, naturally), and then “sit around and chat pleasantly.” These things called visits are nice, Irving and Muktuk decide, so they venture out the next night, sneaking out of the zoo (“polar bears are very large, {but} they are among the best sneakers in the animal kingdom”) to go visit a random family, Steve and Loretta Beachball and their little daughter, Sylvia. Irving and Muktuk enjoy their visit with the surprised family, but after they pull a bush up out of their yard (an impromptu present) and play volleyball in their small living room, “there is a certain amount of damage.” The police show up, and they’re carted off to the zoo, but “‘{w}e had a good time,’ Irving and Muktuk tell the Beachballs. ‘Please come and visit us next time.'” The Pinkwaters score again with their deadpan storytelling and mischievous wit. Their felt-tip marker and ink illustrations provide a colorful background to our all-white polar bear protagonists with their wry but endearing smiles. Thank goodness for Pinkwater and his absurdist, quirky-good, make-the-parents-squirm-a-bit (O heavens! They’re BAD BEARS!) stories. Children will enjoy the ride.

{Addendum: Turns out that Adrienne also reviewed this title on the same day. Visit here to read her thoughts on the book and her confusion as to why more people don’t talk about the wonderful Irving & Muktuk series} . . .

Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep
by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrated by Brooke Dyer
February 2007
(library copy)

Here’s an addition to your bed-time picture book collection, a group of rhymes by Jane Yolen and her grown daughter, Heidi E. Y. Stemple. It just couldn’t get snugglier, what with this collection of animals getting cozy and comfy in their various and asundry habitats in the midst of winter: snakes, gophers, frogs, turtles, and much more. The anthropomorphized animals are seen snuggling up in their beds — the frog at the bottom of a stream with her quilt; the gopher in his burrow with his bed tray and late-night meal; the badger in his earthy home with his book and magnifying glass for reading — and the rhymes are soothing, lilting, hushed, a perfect segue from awake to dozing, even ending with a message for the reader: ” . . . YOU, it’s time for sleep, / So snuggle down and burrow deep. / The sheet and quilt will keep you warm / Through winter or through summer storm / Till you awaken in the morn . . .” Each verse ends in the same manner — with the repetition of a fitting soporific verb and directive to each animal (“Nod, badger, nod”; “Dream, little frog, dream”; “Yawn, chipmunk, yawn”; and “Sleep, my little child, sleep”). Dyer’s illustrations manage to pull off both Detailed and Soothing without overpowering the rhymes; children will enjoy the detailed touches and how Dyer imaginatively and distinctly defines each animal’s sleepy-time world (the little mouse dozing on a huge piece of cheese with an empty box of Moon Crisps nearby) . . . To see an image from the book, visit here — wait! Norbert, Kelly’s cat, shredded the pages. D’oh! Nevertheless, as you will read at that link, Kelly should be reviewing this title soon at Book Buds, so I eagerly await that.

Update: Turns out that today Book Buds has their review of the Black Bear title up! Go here to read . . .

10 comments to “Picture Book Round-Up, Part Two:
Three new titles you can’t bear to miss”

  1. Oh, good, a new Bad Bears book! I love them. Thanks for the news.

  2. When I read Thank You Bear, it never occurred to me that it was more than a box. I thought, he found a box and he thinks mouse will like it. Hmm…

  3. Hey, jessmonster. Are you saying you knew it was a box all along and didn’t fall for the thought that there might be something more in it? If so, cool. I thought some of the surprise and fun was that you find out in the end that both Mouse and Bear can appreciate the simple things, that no one’s looking at anything inside after all. It’s just a box (not to be confused with last year’s fabulous Not A Box. Hee hee).

    Then again, maybe I was being dense and it’s obvious all along that it’s just a box.

    Oh well.

    Ciao . . .

  4. Don’t let Stephen Colbert catch wind of this, or you’ll end up on the Threatdown!

  5. Here we go, Little Willow . . . that image does the post up right.

  6. It was bears in the air on Thursday, eh? And just when I was complaining that no one pays attention to Irving and Muktuk. 🙂

    When I visited Amerst, Mass. in March, I just happened to walk into a bookstore where Jane Yolen AND Heidi Stemple AND Brooke Dyer were all doing a reading/talk, and I got a copy of Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep signed by all three. Usually I give signed books away as gifts, but that one’s totally mine.

    I’m excited to get a look at Thank You Bear. I love the cover….

  7. Jules, you’re awesome.

  8. Yup, I’m saying I knew it was a box all along – and that the other animals just didn’t have imaginations like bear and mouse. But, I had just recently read Not a Box, so maybe that was influencing my box-coolness thinking?

    You could also say that I didn’t have enough imagination to imagine anything in the box!

  9. I think that’s a great way to have read it, Jessmonster.

    My one-and-a-half-year-old daughter LOVES this book. O heavens, she wants to read it every five minutes, and it’s still not old to me.

  10. […] cult-like. The Bad Bears books, illustrated by his wife, Jill (I covered one of those titles here back in ‘07 when our images were tragically small); the Fat Camp Commando titles; the […]

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