Rating: 4 1/2 stars
“Papa’s Backpack,” written and illustrated by James Christopher Carroll, is a simple but powerful — and very touching tribute to parents everywhere who become soldiers in order to protect their loved ones, to defend their communities, and to preserve their way of life. They are the ones who sacrifice all the comforts of home in order to serve, to fulfill their deeply held belief that they must make that sacrifice.
A papa bear who shares the profound love of his son and family must go to war, and his cub, who knows that Papa must leave so that he “can stay and play,” would love most of all to go with his dad. He wants to travel with him in his backpack so that he can offer the love, support, and comfort that a child can bring to a parent as that parent tries to survive the horrors of war.
And that’s it. That is the story. But the book offers so much more to its young readers than that profoundly simple story. It teaches about the joy of sharing and showing one’s love. It illustrates the courage of those who are willing to defend their beliefs. And it implies equally significant lessons about why we must honor all those who serve.
The heroes are a bear cub and his loving, courageous father. But Carroll’s illustrations depict bears that don’t look quite like real bears. They look like some kind of mixture of strong but kind animals. They need not be bears, in other words, to be soldiers. His fellow soldiers, in fact, as viewed mostly in shadows, are a tiger, a chicken, a rabbit, a mouse, a deer, a duck, a dolphin. There are all kinds of people who are brave, and there are all kinds of bravery. The courage of soldiers may be found in abundance in men, women, children, Americans, Africans, Russians, Spaniards, Palestinians, Australians, and anyone else your mind can conjure.
And it would be to the ultimate benefit of us all if we could begin to understand the universal heroism of those who sacrifice to defend their very way of life, whatever their origins and wherever their deeply held beliefs lead them.
And the young readers of this book should also understand that it is our responsibility to make sure that those who are fortunate enough to return home, like Papa Bear, deserve the best lives we can possibly give them. (JK)
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover picture book provided by Sleeping Bear Press for review purposes.