Posts tagged ‘Animals’

Bird Talk and Alex the Parrot

I’m usually trying to pair unique books with each other, whether it’s for story times or simply to promote them together on a display. Two books published last year both have wonderful illustrations and complement each other with their subjects.

Bird TalkAlex the Parrot

Title: Bird Talk: What Birds are Saying and Why
Author/Illustrator: Lita Judge
ISBN: 9781596436466
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Flash Point, an imprint of
Roaring Brook Press, c2012.
Title: Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird
Author: Stephanie Spinner
Illustrator: Meilo So
ISBN: 9780375868467
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books,
a division of Random House, c2012.

On a completely unrelated note… “Look Ma, COLUMNS!” So pretty. Ahem, regaining my train of thought…
While I knew about Koko the gorilla who was taught sign-language, I was not familiar with Alex, which stands for Avian Learning EXperiment. In Alex the Parrot Stephanie Spinner goes into detail about the raising and training of Alex, and African grey parrot that eventually would go on to learn hundreds of words and concepts taught to children in kindergarten. He would combine words to make sentences, answer questions, and compare items by their shape or color. No one expected these abilities from a bird with a brain the size of a walnut, but Alex proved them wrong. Spinner also talks about the lengths that trainer Irene Pepperberg took to avoid acusations that the bird was simply mimicing her or responding to unconscious cues.

As a comparison with what other birds do naturally, pair it with the book Bird Talk by Lita Judge. You might have to either explain or alter the language for younger audiences when she says “attract a mate”, “fledgling” or “species”, but she does include a glossary at the end to assist with that task. There are over two dozen of introductory exmples of birds around the world, varying from the common robin, blue jay and crows to the more exotic Scarlet Macaws, Blue Bird of Paradise, and yes even the African Grey Parrot. It does seem that the subtitle might be viewed as a misnomer, since the book doesn’t just cover vocalizations, but also explains how different types of birds behave when defending their flocks and about half the book is mating/courship behaviors. Overall though, the pictures are engaging and well-drawn and the listing in the back makes an easy reference of where you can find those species featured.

Maybe slightly more detailed than is ideal for classroom sharing, the books overall would both go over well for kids with birds on the brain, and I would hand them together to anyone who’s hearing the call of the wild outside their window.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, you’ll have to head on over to Julie Azzam’s blog, Instantly Interruptible.

Moonbird

MoonbirdTitle: Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95
Author: Phillip Hoose
ISBN: 9780374304683
Pages: 148 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, c2012.
Awards: Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book (2013), CYBILS Top 5 Finalist (2012), Finalist for YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

Meet B95, one of the world’s premier athletes. Weighing a mere four ounces, he’s flown more than 325,000 miles in his life—the distance to the moon and nearly halfway back. He flies at mountaintop height along ancient routes that lead him to his breeding grounds and back. But changes throughout his migratory circuit are challenging this Superbird and threatening to wipe out his entire subspecies of rufa red knot. Places that are critical for B95 and his flock to rest and refuel—stepping-stones along a vast annual migration network—have been altered by human activity. Can these places and the food they contain be preserved?
Or will B95’s and rufa’s days of flight soon come to an end. (3)

That quote summarizes the entire book very adeptly and succinctly. By focusing on B95, Phillip Hoose presents the migratory patterns of the rufa red knot, along with other similar shore birds, as they fly from South America to the Arctic Circle and back again. The migration happens each year, with the birds spending no more than a few months at any location as they follow a path that is ingrained in them. Hoose thoroughly outlines the challenges that the birds face, including changing climates, natural predators, human influences, and stock up on food that needs to last their non-stop flight patterns. Several scientists that study these birds are featured throughout the book and highlight how discoveries about these birds continue to be made. Photos are also interspersed with side bars, and the notes at the end really detail Hoose’s first-hand pursuit of knowledge about these birds.

Hoose did a good job at presenting the facts without overly personifying the bird or his flock. While the facts can be dry to people (like me) who don’t read a lot of nonfiction, taking the book in bite sized snippets and focusing on what I call the “fast facts” can keep you interested. For instance, “Studies show that fat birds fly faster than thin birds, and can stay in the air longer. [Over the course of several weeks a] red knot can consume fourteen times its own weight. To do that, a human weighing 110 pounds would need to eat 2,300 hamburgers at two thirds of a pound per hamburger, with cheese and tomato.” (30-31)

Overall, it’s a unique spin on a little known animal. The amount of interest there will be for this book remains to be seen. However, it’s very in-depth, focused, and factual account, especially when you’re trying to show how scientists conduct their research.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, head on over to A Mom’s Spare Time.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

2 the Point Tuesday Duck Sock Hop

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Duck Sock HopTitle: Duck Sock Hop
Author: Jane Kohuth
Illustrator: Jane Porter
ISBN: 978080373712
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2012.
Publication Date: May 10, 2012

Warm up, wiggle, stretch your beak.
Duck Sock Hop comes once a week.
The mood is high, the sun is low,
the music starts, get ready, go!

Jane Kohuth’s rollicking rhymes provide tumbling tongue twisters and Jane Porter’s colorful creations encourage enjoyment. Similar to Seuss’s Fox in Socks, ducks frolic in stylish socks from spots and stripes to “jeweled deluxe.” But like most dances, as it progresses the ducks and socks get worn out, until they tumble into each other and the ensuing pile-up encourages big laughs from the audience. But never fear, they’ll regroup and host another one next week!

Pair this with Boot and Shoe by Marla Frazee (review coming soon) for a fresh, frenzied and fun look at footwear or pair with Punk Farm by Jarrett J. Krosoczka for a rollicking, rock and roll story time. My outreach kindergarteners loved them both!

The Helpful Puppy

Helpful PuppyTitle: The Helpful Puppy
Author: Kim Zarins
Illustrator: Emily Arnold McCully
ISBN: 9780823423187
Pages: Unpaged
Publisher/Date: Holiday House, c2012.

All the animals helped out at the farm—
all except the puppy.
“I want to help out too!”

With those few words, Kim Zarins begins a rollicking journey through the farm as puppy explores all the possible ways the other animals help. But he can’t lay eggs like the hens, he can’t pull the cart like the ox, and he can’t give milk like the cow. Even the sheepdog claims that he’ll be able to help someday, but not now. In text that has some rhyming meter but isn’t uniform in its scheme or rhythm, it provides interesting listening. At the very least, it keeps both readers and listeners on their toes, but it might have flowed better if she’d been more consistent. For instance:

“Then the puppy visited the cow.
The farmer squirted the milk into a pail.
“Can I make milk?” he asked.
The cow replied, “Of course not. You’re a male.”

Next the puppy saw some sheep and cheered.
Yippee! I can give fur, like you give wool!”
“Na-ah-ah-ah,” the sheep baaed.
“You’d look silly sheared.”

The real stand-out is the ending, where we learn that the puppy’s job is to give love, which he does unconditionally. Emily Arnold McCully’s watercolors are a thing of beauty and you can’t help but fall in love with this spirited little pup. The book itself makes me think of a more stylized remake of the Pokey Little Puppy, with the bright colors of the farm distinguishing feathers on the hens, whiskers on the cat, and tiny flies buzzing around the cow’s tail, although the boy inexplicably changes shirts for dinner. I love how the two page wordless spread shows a boy and his dog and the uncomplicated joy they provide for each other. Every little child who has a dog will agree that this book captures that spirit extremely well in the pictures, so long as they can look past the slightly awkward text and focus on the very obvious message.

The One and Only Ivan

One and Only IvanTitle: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
ISBN: 9780061992254
Pages: 305 pages
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.

“I just thought of a story,” I say.
“Is it a made-up story or a true one?” Ruby asks.
“True,” I say. “I hope.”
Ruby leans against the bars. Her eyes hold the pale moon in them, the way a still pond holds stars.
“Once upon a time, I say, “there was a baby elephant. She was smart and brave, and she needed to go to a place called a zoo.”
“What’s a zoo?” Ruby asks.
“A zoo, Ruby, is a place where humans make amends. A good zoo is a place where humans care for animals and keep them safe.”
“Did the baby elephant get to the zoo?” Ruby asks softly.
I didn’t answer right away. “Yes,” I say at last.
“How did the get there?” Ruby asks.
“She had a friend,” I say. “A friend who made a promise.” (166-167)

Ivan the gorilla and Stella the elephant were both born in the wild, but they now live next to each other in a mall circus where they serve as the main attractions. The circus is failing, and Ivan and Stella feel changes in the air. Their caretaker Mack has plans to save the failing circus from bankruptcy, and brings in a baby elephant named Ruby to add to the show. While they were resigned to their own fates, Ruby’s arrival forces Ivan and Stella to reexamine their surroundings. This is not the ideal space for a baby elephant to grow up. With old wounds causing Stella’s health to decline, Ivan must come up with a plan on his own to get them out of their cages and into a better life. But will all his hard work be for nothing?

I thought this was an interesting way to present a memorable animal rights story. Rather than suffer from outright abuse, Ivan and Stella, and eventually Ruby too, suffer more from neglect. Readers witness Ivan’s early years when he was a small but pampered primate, and then his size slowly restricted him to his cage. Mack recognizes that Ivan needs stimulation, allowing him a television and crayons, but has no real idea on how to care for the animals. The lack of funds occasionally leads to lack of proper nutrition for the animals, Stella’s health fails frequently without the veterinary support, and there is one instant of elephant abuse that anyone who saw Water for Elephants might know what is coming.

Grown accustomed to his life, Ivan rarely considers his time before captivity because he knows this is his new normal. He’s even taken to calling his cage his “domain”, even when corrected by a stray dog named Bob who hangs around the circus looking for scraps. This mind over matter philosophical look on life is intriguing, and fits his seemingly easy-going nature and artistic outlook, as he draws what he sees and isn’t particularly driven to create outside those limitations. It’s the appearance of Ruby that changes things. This curious, inquisitive, but scared little elephant brings to light the problems with their situation. I seem to recall a quote about this very idea (which of course I can’t find now) that amounted to not wishing your life or hardships on others, and that’s exactly what Ivan and Stella are feeling. They have some internalized drive to protect and shield her from the hardships of the world.

The author note admits the tale is loosely inspired by a true story of a real gorilla named Ivan who was kept at a circus themed mall in Washington. The timing of this story is ironic, since in August the real Ivan passed away, just seven months after this book was published. The full story of Ivan can be found here: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2018964123_ivan23m.html with many more sites coming up through Google searches. An interesting “look back” is provided by an article in the New York Times from the 1980s when the fight to transfer Ivan to a zoo was in full steam. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/17/us/a-gorilla-sulks-in-a-mall-as-his-future-is-debated.html If that irony wasn’t enough for you, the Atlantic Journal-Constitution did an article about Ivan just one day before his death: http://www.ajc.com/news/lifestyles/gorillas-cruise-into-golden-years-at-zoo-atlanta/nRMLm/

While the story itself is interesting, it lacks immediacy that might have otherwise added to the plot progression. Truthfully, the fight for the real Ivan’s release from confined captivity took much longer than the implied timeline that Applegate portrays in her novel. The primary efforts of getting Ivan and his friends released occurs “off-screen”, and Ivan’s limited viewpoint prevents readers from witnessing it first-hand, although I’m not sure how interesting delayed and drawn-out political wrangling would have been to the intended audience. While this lack of first-hand knowledge of events is frustrating at times, it may have been done intentionally to give readers a sense of how the actions of others (actions that Ivan doesn’t completely understand) have influence on Ivan’s situation. Also unrealistically is the instigation that Ivan in the story provides for his release, which I guess is why so many people see this as fantasy. Yes, we do have communication across species, but it’s I think true fantasy fans would be severely disappointed by this novel, as there is no magic, fantastical creatures, or spells. I think the appeal here is the animal story, especially because it is influenced by actual events. You can’t help but root for Ivan and readers will be satisfied with the conclusion.

Bears

The Picture Book Month calendar included Bears as a theme on Nov. 7th. I do at least one bear themed storytime around this time every year. Sometimes, I do more than one, first pairing them with hibernation/sleeping themes, while other times it’s just bears. There are so many great books about bears out there, but the ones I’m featuring today are the ones I used just recently for an outreach visit to several classrooms of preschool and kindergarten kids.

Title: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Author: Michael Rosen
Illustrator: Helen Oxenbury

If you work with young children and you don’t know this book and/or song, SHAME ON YOU! Go out and pick up a copy and learn it right now. And then, check out Michael Rosen’s rendition of the song on Youtube. And then, if you still can, pick up a copy of the pop-up book. Yes, there is a pop-up book floating around out there. It’s absolutely beautiful, simply done but with very sturdy construction for multiple story times. The kids are fascinated by it and I always get questions and comments like “The dog’s going the wrong way” and “The baby’s on the dad’s shoulders” and “Where’s the mom?” and “What does that tab do?” Yes there is no skipping any of the pull-tabs on this one, because your eagle-eyed audience will notice and make you go back and demonstrate what each one does again and again. You need this book, but if you can still track it down, splurge and get the pop-up version, with the swirling snow and the tripping children. You’ll thank me later.

Title: A Visitor for Bear
Author: Bonny Becker
Illustrator: Kady MacDonald Denton

No wonder it got an E.B. White Read Aloud Award. This book begs to be enthusiastically read aloud, although I will warn you that it’s my longest book on this list and it takes a full fifteen minutes sometimes to get through. But the kids will be intrigued by how the mouse keeps getting into the house of this reclusive bear who just wants to eat his breakfast. There are a few repetitive lines that the older kids will pick up immediately and will help you fill in the blanks if you let them. This is another book where kids pipe up with their opinions chastising the bear for turning the mouse away in the beginning and remarking on the “hanging thing” from the bears mouth when he shouts to the mouse to “BEGONE!” And a great vocabulary lesson awaits for readers wondering what “impossible! Intolerable! Insufferable” mean.

Title: The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
Author: Don and Audrey Wood
Illustrator: Don Wood

I quite often joke that the title is longer than the actual book, but the Woods pair up for what has become a classic, since my copy boasts a 1984 copyright date. It’s held up remarkably well over the years, and I’m sure scores of librarians and teachers have used this in their storytimes. It tells the story of a little mouse trying to keep his strawberry (that he JUST picked) away from the big hungry bear. We never see the big hungry bear, although in a stroke of design genius we do see the bear’s shadow on the back cover. Proving that you can still look at things in a different perspective, I had one little boy remark that it was the bear who was telling the story. I’m not sure if I agree with him, but he brought up an interesting idea to talk about point of view using this book, and see how many other readers shared his opinion. Great graphics lend themselves to laughter as the mouse tries again and again to hide, disguise, and guard his strawberry, and if you look closely you’ll see relics of each attempt scattered throughout the following pages.

Title: A Splendid Friend Indeed
Author/Illustrator: Suzanne Bloom

Suzanne Blooms series about a goose and a polar bear is different from the rest in several ways. First, it features a polar bear, while most bear stories feature the traditional brown or dark-colored bear. Second, he’s paired with a goose, and the two incompatible creatures end up becoming wonderful companions. Thirdly, the story is told entirely in dialogue, which I’m always impressed by when I stumble across it. Usually the books talk to the readers with third person or first person narration, but in this one Goose and Bear talk directly to each other, without a single “he said” or “she said”. It takes a mature group of children to decipher Bear’s frustrations and Goose’s attention seeking behavior solely by the pictures, but when they do catch on it’s like magic. Due to the simple sentence structure, I usually save it for younger audiences, because although as I said some of it might go over their head, the simplistic drawings are eye-catching to all.

Title: Bear Snores On
Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jane Chapman

Wilson’s rhymes are longer than most picture books, but it rarely falters as Bear snores on through the slowly building gathering taking place in his cave. It’s when a stray pepper flake gets up his nose and results in a humongous sneeze that the animals freeze and are scared of what Bear’s reaction will be. No worries, since it all ends happily, but Wilson knows how to build suspense with the Bear gnashing and growling at being woken up early. Surrounded by forest creatures, Bears friendship will continue, as this debut book for Karma Wilson turned into a gold mine as she continues the series with “Bear Says Thanks,” Bear Wants More” and several others.

So what about you? What bear books can you never “bare” to be far from?

Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet

Today’s author featured on the Picture Book Month calendar is Kelly DiPucchio. I’m trying to keep pace with the calendar and blog about either the person or the theme featured each day of this month on the calendar.

Title: Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet
Author: Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator: Bob Shea
ISBN: 978080373394
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2011.

Just as the title proclaims, Gilbert Goldfish desperately wants a pet. After being subject to several trial pets in the form of a dog, a mouse, and a fly, readers glimpse the shadow of the next option, a shadow with pointy ears, a round head and whiskers. What could it possibly be? Definitely not what you think. Oh what a delightful twist to the ending of this book! You know the author, Kelly Dipucchio, has got to have something up her sleeve. Her resume includes co-writing The Sandwich Swap with Queen Rania. And she’s from Michigan (my home state!)

Having had exposure with Bob Shea’s brightly hued drawings in New Socks, I love his drawings for this book. Gilbert’s eyes are so wide, they could definitely stand in for Little Red Riding Hood’s line “What big eyes you have!” The expressive face shows the initial boredom, the joy as each prospective pet is introduced, and the following disappointment when things don’t work out as expected. His horrified face in one case is classic. It elaborates on the text very well, as readers witness the ups and downs of being a pet owner, and they will certainly cheer when Gilbert finds the perfect pet.

Shadow

Title: Shadow
Author: Michael Morpurgo
ISBN: 9780312606596
Pages: 180 pages
Publisher/Date: Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillian, c2010.
Publication Date: Sept. 4, 2012 (US) (first published Jan. 1, 2010)

I saw then what they had seen, foreign soldiers, several of them, coming slowly toward us. The one in front had a detector–I’d seen them before in Bamiyan–and I knew what they were for. He was sweeping the road ahead of him for bombs. I think it was only then that I put two and two together, and realized what Shadow was doing. She had discovered a bomb. She was pointing to it. She was showing us. and I knew somehow that she was showing the soldiers too.
But they still couldn’t see her. She was hidden from them by a boulder at the side of the road. So I just ran. I never even thought about it. I just ran, toward the soldiers, toward Shadow, toward the bomb.(72-73)

When Aman was just a child living in Afghanistan, his father and grandmother were killed by the Taliban. Forced to flee the country with his mother in the hopes of meeting up with an uncle in England, Aman faced some insurmountable odds. Finally making it across the border with the aid of a unique dog he named Shadow, Aman leads a relatively comfortable life in England. After spending six years in England, Aman and his mother receive the shocking news that their asylum request has been denied and they need to return to Afghanistan. They are locked away, awaiting deportation. That’s when Aman’s friend Matt and Matt’s grandfather make a last-ditch effort to save this family from a separation that could kill them.

Allowing Aman to tell the story in a flashback format prevents the urgency and apprehension from building. We already know that he and his mother make it to England successfully because he is locked there awaiting deportation. By the time readers catch up to present day, there are few pages left to resolve the conflict, and it’s fairly obvious what’s going to happen and you’re really not surprised by the ending. While the ending is fairly serendipitous, it’s also realistic, as you generally hear about “Hail Mary passes” being caught by someone and being taken all the way by a network of people.

The characters are likeable enough, but even Aman comes across as somewhat one-dimensional, as the focus is on the journey and not the people. Readers can sympathize with his situation, but you don’t get emotionally involved like some other stories encourage. Matt and his grandfather are supplemental, even though they are the only ones relating “present” events. I think it would have increased urgency if we had seen Aman’s state first hand, like when he was detained in the deportation “camp”.

However, I can see teachers using this in lesson plans about ongoing wars overseas, immigration, refugees, and comparing detention centers of today to other times we’ve had something similar occur, such as during World War II with Hitler’s concentration camps and the Japanese internment camps here in the United States. With short chapters, many of which have a dangling if not a true cliff-hanger ending, it would make an interesting read-aloud during transition times or for several minutes each day. Being written by Michael Morpurgo helps too, especially with the recent release of the War Horse movie generating interest in his war based realistic fiction. He provides some background information about asylum-seeking families and military dogs in his acknowledgements and postscripts. I’m very interested in getting the two movies he sites, Phil Grabsky’s The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan and In this World, directed by Michael Winterbottom, although I’m not finding either at any library locally at this time.

A Ball for Daisy

The first artist featured on the Picture Book Month calendar is two-time Caldecott Medal Winner Chris Raschka. I’m trying to keep pace with the calendar and blog about either the person or the theme featured each day of this month on the calendar. Some days I might even be able to do both.

Title: A Ball for Daisy
Author/Illustrator: Chris Raschka
ISBN: 9780375858611
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. c2011.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t read Raschka’s Caldecott winning book about a dog and her ball until today. I realize many will think I’m a horrible librarian because of it, but I’m going to admit that I’m much more drawn to details in pictures than I am the rough, bare-bones pictures. So when I saw the cover when the awards were announced, I kind of went “it’s cute” and moved on. Maybe that’s how Chris Raschka intended it, since he writes in his guest post today over at the Picture Book Month website:

“I always try to treat the book itself as the artwork,” Chris Raschka says. “I don’t want you to stop while you’re reading one of my books and say, ‘Oh! What a gorgeous illustration!’ I want you to stop at the end of the book and say, ‘This is a good book.’ ”

Once you get past the cover, I was right, it is cute. I think the page that finally got me to stop and really look at the drawings was the two page spread [spoiler alert] after the ball pops and Daisy goes through all these emotions. And Raschka portrays them without a single word, and does it beautifully, in spite of or maybe regardless of the wordless nature of the story. Because we now see Daisy (which we only know is her name because of the title) looking at the ball quizzically, trying to determine what happened, and then slowly coming to that realization and looking so forlorn as a result.

It’s traumatic to her, and we see that on the following pages as she trudges slowly home, big floppy ears that used to be so animated now drooping. Her posture has sunken, and she can’t get comfortable on the couch because she misses her ball. A new blue ball quickly resolves the problem, and Daisy forgets about the red ball from the moment she spots it. Raschka obviously and accurately portrays the dog’s fickle nature of one ball is as good as another, especially when the alternative is no ball at all.

So in its own way the pictures are detailed in that we know exactly what’s going on in the story. Maybe these pictures are even more detailed than other illustrators’ works of art because they need the assistance of words to tell the story. But while I like the story and the pictures, I don’t think I would have instantly thought “Award winner” if I had seen the book outside of that context. But he is right, in that I do find myself saying by the end of it “That was a good book.”

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat

Title: A Boy and a Bear in a Boat
Author/Illustrator: Dave Shelton
ISBN: 9780385752497
Pages: 294 pages
Publisher/Date: David Fickling Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., c2012.

“But,” said the boy, frowning, “doesn’t that mean we should be there by now? I mean, I know you said it would take a little while, but I thought you meant an hour or so, not all night. So shouldn’t we be there? Or at least be able to see it by now?”
“Oh, I see what you mean,” said the bear. “Well, yes, normally we would have arrived by now but unfortunately there were . . . unforeseeable anomalies in the currents and we had to adjust our course a bi. So now we’re running a little behind schedule. Sorry.”
“Oh, I see,” said the boy. He didn’t see at all. “But are we nearly there?”
“Not really, no.”
The boy’s face fell.
“But everything is in hand,” said the bear. “Don’t worry.” (10-11)

Everything is not “in hand” as the bear wants to put it, and the boy soon finds that out. While traveling to an undisclosed location an undisclosed distance away over an undisclosed body of water, the boy and the bear find themselves having more adventures than Gilligan and his team had on their proposed three-hour tour. Stranded on their tiny boat, the bear resolutely rows, while the boy progressively grows more bored of the never-ending sea and sky (which are inevitably the one of two answers for the bear’s game of “I Spy”). But just when his boredom reaches his breaking point is when their adventure truly begins, and the boy realizes that not having an adventure may have its advantages.

This somewhat existential tale reminds me of Life of Pi. Since it’s been a while since I’ve read Life of Pi, maybe for the only reason that a boy is stuck on a boat with a wild animal. But this bear is nothing like the tiger in Life of Pi, most noticeably because the anthropomorphized bear talks, eats, stands, and acts like a human, although a very laid back human. He reminds me more of Pooh, who spouts ideas that catch readers off guard in a children’s book. For instance, when asked if it was tomorrow, he responds with:

“Well, no,” he said. “Obviously it can’t be tomorrow, can it? It’s today. It’s always today, isn’t it? But, yes, it is the today that was tomorrow yesterday. If you see what I mean.” (10)

Hopefully you see what I mean.

The book is more an examination of human emotion and interaction than an action story. The boy gets frustrated with the bear, and the bear gets frustrated with the boy. We see snippets of insight and depth, but mostly we have an almost Laurel and Hardy show for children, with the bear’s simple nature going against the boy’s more regimented and reasoned life style. The comedic aspects get unbelievable in the end, but readers have suspended their belief from the beginning, so it really isn’t a stretch to presume storms, sea monsters, tides, and all sort of other troubles are lurking just around the … well not really around the bend since there is no bend, but lurking really close to wherever it is they are. This is why the open-ended nature of the conclusion seems to fit so nicely because it’s such a non-specific story to begin with.

Give this to your more reflective children, or those readers who like to be in on a joke as the boy and the bear try to figure each other out and they grow increasingly exasperated by each other. Personally, I think it’s going to be a hard sell to any kid, but adult audiences (teachers/librarians) might enjoy it and be able to get it into the hands of the right readers.

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