Hen&inkblots: A Literary Blog

A Bearful of Stories

November 23, 2012 by Erzsi Deak

Puttering in the picture book garden with Erzsi Deàk and Carmen Oliver!

As it’s Picture Book Month (in the middle of NaNoWriMo!), we’re taking a look at that most wonderful of forms, THE PICTURE BOOK.

Penguin & Pinecone by Salina Yoon

You may be wondering why, when the title of this blog is “A Bearful of Stories,” I’m starting off with a penguin (not just any penguin, mind you). Basically, I suppose we could have called this “The Friendship Issue,” but then we (Carmen and I) clocked how many picture books feature bears. So, as I’ve read an armful of terrific new and upcoming picture books lately where the text and the illustrations sing together brilliantly (and seamlessly) and where the message is quieter and the pallets boldly calming, we’re starting with the funny bird and ending with the burly bears. Rest-assured, a penguin is not a bear (though they are both fantastic characters). In case you were wondering about this logic.  I won’t even go into how the kiss fits in.

Each of the above titles features gentle humor and love, whether between a parent and a child or between friends.

In Penguin & Pinecone, Salina Yoon manages to show undying love of two very different characters (Penguin and Pinecone…) and how they adapt to their different needs.

Plant a KissHere, we meet Little Miss who, almost in the role of The Little Red Hen, brings together the neighborhood and the world by just the simple act of planting a kiss, granted a very special gardeny kiss. The video is fun, too.

Kate Banks and Georg Hallensleben’s The Bear in the Book recently garnered a lot of stars and was voted a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2012. This is a book for parents and young children to cherish. It’s rich in its subtext and its overt telling of the story about the bear in the book. But it’s the boy and his mother in the book in our hands, too, that brings this two-in-one story home in a satisfying, tuck-you-in manner.  Here’s a picture book that does, indeed, hit all the right notes (vs. say a certain bivalve book, for those of you who’ve heard me rant, er, talk…). As PW notes:

In one of the finest examples of picture-book metafiction in recent memory, Banks and Hallensleben offer a spot-on portrait of the intimate, roundabout nature of reading with a child. The clever structure lets readers peek in as a mother and child read and discuss a book, then move into that book, fully sharing in the story. It’s a superb model of the value of reading together.

The Bear and Bird books play up relationships like Bert and Ernie, Frog and Toad and Bear and Mouse (in the Bonny Becker and Kady Macdonald Denton’s wonderful creations, A Visitor for Bear et al). In Bear and Bird, Bird learns kindness and selflessness and what keeps a friendship (relationship!) going. In the upcoming Bear and Bird (and Frog), Bear values Bird and Frog does too (in a big way – this is my version of avoiding a spoiler).

Interestingly, the majority of characters in these books are BEARS.  Bears are symbols of calm and stoic strength. They also know when to escape (hibernate). The Bear in the Book breaks away from the tradition of bear books exploring the beary-ness of life (under their coats we know they are just big, lumbering kids). But, in the end, no matter what fur you wear, all these books are about kindness and love. And that makes me feel warm and fuzzy all over and beg for someone to READ IT AGAIN!

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Happily, we can explore bears and picture books with Hen&ink’s Carmen Oliver. She also happens to have a couple of terrific bear books up her sleeve that she’ll tell you about. So, curl up close to the fire and listen up. We’ve a bearful of stories to tell.

Chilly or stormy nights demand a steaming cup of cocoa or tea and a good book to chase away the howls of the wind. That’s why I’ve put together a picture book post on some of my favorite characters, who happen to all be bears.

There’s something so inviting and soothing about a bear, their cozy fur, big paws, generous girth and the fact that they love naps. What’s not to love about bears! I guess I’m not the only one as the  New York Times  reviewed several books for children on  Sunday, January 21, 2012 and I’m including the article In The Company of Bears by Pamela Paul because these books sound adorable and worth checking out.

One of my favorite bear books of all time is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.It’s a classic tale that never gets old. I love making the sounds with my kids as we read this book aloud. Don’t you?

A series favorite of ours began with A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick Press, 2008) and the latest book out is The Sniffles for BearIf you’ve never read this series than you’re missing out on one of the best friendships to come along since Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series. Mouse and Bear are the perfect companions. Most of the time! These books are clever and funny and touching.

And what about the gorgeous illustrated dancing polar bears in Nancy Tillman’On the Night You Were Born (Feiwel & Friends, 2006) or the black bear in Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You (Feiwel & Friends, 2010) Magical. Whimsical. Heartfelt books. You may have seen some of them this past Christmas during the holiday season as they were featured in Kohl’s stores across the nation.

I’ve always been drawn to bears in part because of their massive size and strength. No one messes with a bear and it’s one of the reasons why they make such good characters in picture books. They’re protectors. But sometimes they need protecting in real life and that’s why I was moved to write the picture book A Voice for the Spirit Bears: The Simon Jackson Story, about a boy who has dedicated his life to saving the ghosts of the North. To learn about these rare bears and Simon Jackson, you can visit the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition and lend your voice to the campaign, too.

Photo courtesy of D. Simon Jackson


In closing, do you have any favorite books with bear characters you enjoy reading? Care to share? Or maybe you’re writing your own “bear” book. And if you are, I say good for you! I think there’s always room for one more. Let me know your favorite bear books, I’m sure there’s a few out there that I’ve missed over the years.

— C.O.

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Our “interactive feature”!

Let us know your favorite bear or other picture books! We’ll make a tally and see if, say, mice overrun bears as characters or if penguins are the new badger. And then we’ll make a PIE CHART! Watch this space (but first send in your vote via comments).

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Erzsi & Carmen