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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bear Has A Story to Tell, written by Phillip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2012. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Many months passed and the sun returned. It melted the snow and woke the trees. Bear rolled out onto the green grass. "It's spring!" he said. "Now I can tell my story!" But first, Bear brought Mouse an acorn."

It isn't that you haven't met bears in books for kids before now; it's just that you may not yet have met such an expressive and profoundly emotional one. He makes you want to give him a big bear hug, rather than the other way. His demeanor is one of warm concern for his friends and the work they must to do to get ready for winter. Bear has a story to tell; he 'puts it to bed' as he realizes his friends, Mouse, Duck, Frog and Mole have more pressing issues than to listen to it right now.

Despite his larger-than-life appearance, he does not overwhelm those he meets. He looks at them woefully, then bends forward to lean in and listen to their woes, and to offer his much-needed assistance:

"He helped Mouse find seeds on the forest floor."

"He raised his paw to check the direction of the wind."

"Bear dug a frog-sized hole between two evergreens."

And when he finds his friend Mole already tucked in for the long winter sleep, he wishes him a quiet good night. Too sweet for words he is.

It isn't long until his own weary eyes close and his own sleep begins. Then, awakening with the spring sun, he is suddenly aware that it is time to tell his story. Before he allows himself the personal pleasure of welcoming spring with his story, he helps his friends and waits with them for Mole's nose to show itself. Now, he's ready....or is he?

In the true spirit of friendship his friends listen to his lament:

"It was such a good story," he said, hanging his head. "But winter is a very long time for a bear to remember."

This is a lovely story told with compassion, and a great deal of charm. Erin Stead matches the tone with softly gentle watercolor artwork that keeps the focus on character, while also providing a perfect setting for the story's arc. The autumn leaves add warmth, even as the animals prepare for the months ahead. As they continue to fall, the white of the sky blocks the sun and brings a feeling of cool isolation. (I love when we have to turn the book on its side to see the real depth of the hole that Mole has found for protection against the harsh reality of the winter season). So much to see and to love on each of these pages. Bravo!

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