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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bear Despair, by Gaetan Doremus. Enchanted Lion Books, 2012. $14.95 ages 4 and up

This is the sixth book in a series that Enchanted Lion Books calls Story Without Words, and it is just as much fun as all the others have been. I have loved wordless books since I 'read' my first ones. I think they were the Mercer Mayer A Boy, A Dog and a Frog books and Deep in the Forest by Brinton Turkle. Such books as this and the others that are in my collection show how powerful art is in telling stories that resonate with all  readers.

In Brandon, where I live, and in Manitoba, we are welcoming immigrants from many world communities. We are blessed to have them here; and we recognize that immigration brings with it issues of language and culture. For children entering a school system with little command of the English language, we need to find books that matter. We want them to be readers; with patience, strong guidance and worthy illustrated books we can help them learn a new book language along with gaining confidence to speak it.  Wordless books can provide a bridge. In reading books with no words, children are developing story sense and improving comprehension in any language. The story is virtually the same for everyone.

When a peacefully sleeping big bear awakens to find that his cuddly teddy has been stolen right out of his arms by a wily wolf, he is desperate to get it back. As he approaches the wolf, the wolf sends the teddy flying over a grove of nearby trees. Anger rages and the wolf soon finds himself swallowed whole and aboard as the bear continues the search.

Just as he finds the teddy, a lion grabs it up, teases the bear for needing a stuffed toy at all and quickly becomes the object of a chase. The bear forces the lion to the edge of a cliff. Terrified, the lion tosses the teddy over the edge. Bad decision...Lion becomes Bear's second breakfast!

And so it goes...Bear doing his best to get his favorite sleep companion back while the odds of that happening seem stacked against him. He takes revenge at every opportunity. He is in despair when he cannot get teddy back. However, there are good Samaritans in the animal world, too. The bears are eventually reunited and all's right in their world!

Gaetan Doremus uses great variety in his artwork. Single panels give rise to single and double page spreads. All are action-filled and move the story to a satisfactory conclusion for each of the animals involved. Muted colors and cross-hatching offer a setting that draws the reader's attention to this fast paced tale. I like the way he circles the scenes to keep us focused on each new new occurrence, and it's great fun to watch Bear's stomach grow as his appetite for revenge means dire consequences for those who cross him. I wonder if any of those animals learned a lesson. No matter, Bear is content to have his purple pal back!

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