Tag Archive | Bears

The Biggest Bear, by Lynd Ward

The Biggest Bear, by Lynd Ward

He illustrated 200 children’s books, and was the illustrator for “Johnny Tremain.” The book’s jacket even describes him as “one of America’s greatest artists.” But in 1952, Lynd Ward started his greatest project. He both wrote and illustrated the story of “The Biggest Bear” – and it won him the Caldecott Medal.

“Johnny Orchard lived on the farm farthest up the valley,” Ward writes, “and closest to the woods.” He draws the boy’s smiling face, and then an illustration of his grandfather’s farm. But the third drawing shows the source of the boy’s humiliation: all the other farmer display a bear skin nailed to the side of their barns. In fact, Mr. Pennell had impressed the boy by shooting three bears once when they’d passed by his field.

If this book is problematic today, it’s only because it shows drawings of the hunters pointing their guns. But Johnny’s grandfather seems less militant, and tells the story of encountering a bear – and then running. “Better a bear in the orchard than an Orchard in the bear,” he jokes. However, Johnny finds this humiliating, and vows he’ll shoot a bear himself if he ever comes across one.

Ward obviously liked the idea of drawing the small boy in the wild woods. But he’s also dreamed up a clever surprise for his story when the boy ventures in with his gun. Johnny discovers a tiny bear cub instead, and gives it a piece of maple sugar. He cradles the bear in his arms, and takes it back to his family. And soon they’re feeding the bear cub on the milk from their cows.

The calves look on angrily, since that milk was meant for them. And the cub also likes the corn mash that was “meant for the chickens.” Each sentence gets a wonderful illustration, as Ward lets the story unfold. The cub “liked the apples in the orchard,” he writes – then shows the upside-down bear climbing a branch for the fruit!

The cub likes pancakes on Sundays, and Johnny’s maple sugar. And “Johnny’s mother got pretty upset when he started looking for things on the kitchen shelves.” One night the bear camps in a neighboring farmer’s corn field. And Mr. Pennell’s smokehouse was soon plundered for its hanging hams. Picture after picture details the havoc that was wreaked by the visiting bear.

He guzzles syrup in a shed, and even the sap tapped from the maple trees. “He was a trial and a tribulation to the whole valley,” the neighbors explain to Johnny’s father. They lead the bear back into the woods – but the bear simply returns to the farm. Ultimately Johnny decides that he has to shoot the bear after all…even though now he doesn’t want to. But fortunately, the book finds a happy ending instead, and the bear is taken off to the zoo.

And whenever Johnny goes to visit him, he always brings maple sugar.

Beardream, by Will Hobbs

Beardream, by Will Hobbs

As a child growing up in Alaska, the author “came under the spell of mountains, rivers, and bears,” according to the jacket of his seventh book. It also promises a story in which a bear’s great secret will be shared with a young Indian boy. Gorgeous watercolors with soft edges add a dream-like feeling to the illustrations in Beardream. There’s a sunny forest, a bear in a stream, and a steep and mountainous valley, and both the pictures and text seem to celebrate the great outdoors.

“It was springtime in the mountains but the Great Bear was still sleeping,” writes Will Hobbs – even though the picture shows the bear capturing a large fish. “Long after all the other bears had left their dens, he was still dreaming.” There’s a grassy field that’s dotted with wildflowers, and the author seems to be honoring the bear’s point of view. And because this is the bear’s dream, even the rocky face of the mountain looks like the face of a bear!

The story offers a simple description of the adventure of an Indian boy named Short Tail. “Where is old Honey Paws?” he asks his tribe, concerned about the Great Bear and his prolonged hibernation. The book is dedicated to “the Ute children of today and tomorrow.” It’s a great story for children, because the boy strikes out on his own, climbing a steep mountainside in search of the missing bear.

“[S]oon he was climbing the mountain on all fours, like a bear,” Hobbs writes. The boundaries are getting blurry in this story, and they’re about to get blurrier. When the boy rests on the hillside, the giant mountain now becomes the face of a boy. And in the boy’s dream – or is it the bear’s dream? – the boy and the bear will finally meet.

“Wake up, Great” the boy shouts into the dark cave from a colorful hill. The growling bear snarls and knocks the boy down. But in the dream, the boy tells the bear that everyone had been worried about him. “The Great Bear sad down on his haunches and thought about how respectful the boy was.”

It’s a realistic story, which makes its fanciful touches even more special. On a moonlit hillside, the boy travels through silver mists riding on the bear’s back. There’s a wooded clearing where the bears secretly gather to celebrate the end of winter. They dance to the rhythm of thunder, in a brown, fuzzy illustration. The bear dance is a real tradition of the Ute Indian tribe, and the author is re-telling the legend of its creation.

“‘Go back and tell the People,’ the Great bear told Short Tail. ‘Show them how to do the bear’s dance.'”

The Bear Who Wanted to Fly by Carol Shaver

The Bear Who Wanted to Fly by Carol Shaver

There’s something magical about a picture book that’s 14 inches tall. (There’s that friendly bear peeping back at you from the inside front cover.) And there’s also an appropriate quote from Jacqueline Kennedy. “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all…”

And as the magic begins, you can tell that author Carol Shaver spent time telling stories to children. The Bear Who Wanted to Fly is always packed with warm enthusiasm — along with lots of extra adjectives. Right from the first page, I also liked the bright illustrations by Rachel Smith. Their clean, simple style suggests a sunny day with some friendly animals.

“The bear was sitting high up in the pine tree,” the book begins — with a lovely picture of the bear gazing out at a blue mountain sky. He’s perched on branch overlooking a dark blue river, and the simple drawing of his tree even includes a bird’s nest! For weeks, Cubby the bear had watched as the birds “swoop and dive and frolic in the air.” And then suddenly the bear reaches a conclusion. It must be the feathers….

I hoped that kids wouldn’t get the wrong idea, because that’s never going to work. But the book makes that clear, and I really loved all this book’s colorful details, and the way it still found its way to a warm and happy ending. It’s fun that the bear is watched by “the inquisitive squirrel twins,” Chatter and Crunch. They see him scurrying around to collect feathers — beautiful feathers — and storing them in a “saving place” in the forest’s Grand Pine Tree.

And then that bear starts collecting pine cones — sticky pinecones. (The author hints that it’s “nature’s glue”…) Then suddenly the bear disappears. The squirrels and all the animals in the woods start to talk about him, and search, and worry. There’s a wonderful drawing of the bear, covered with colorful feathers, smiling a silly bear smile as he walks toward the end of his branch…

There’s real children’s-story drama — and amazingly, a very happy ending, as all his forest friends rush a pile of autumn leaves under the branch where the bear will inevitably fall. “Friends help friends…” the squirrels say at the end of the book.

And they even arrange a special ride for him on the back of some eagles, so he gets to fly after all.