Who doesn’t love books about bears? Especially picture books about helpful bears, bears who chase away bullies, bears who teach uptight lemmings how to enjoy life, and bears who have stage fright. These four sweet stories will probably become favorites at bedtime.
“The Society of Distinguished Lemmings” is written and illustrated by Julie Colombet. It’s an exquisitely narrated and illustrated story, from the shiny gold on the front cover to the details on each lemming. The illustrations of the lemmings in their “habitat” are filled with clever activities and word bubbles. The lemmings in the “Society of Distinguished Lemmings” are very erudite. They play the piano and badminton, perform Shakespeare, have concerts. But Bertie is tired of the noise, so he ventures outside and meets a huge bear, a not-erudite bear who nevertheless licks Bertie very enthusiastically. While the bear isn’t interested in chess or painting, he loves teaching Bertie other less-distinguished activities like rolling in flowers and jumping in mud puddles. When he fails to impress the other lemmings, they decide he cannot be in their society. They get ready to plan their vacation to the ocean. Loyal Bertie stays with his new friend, and they read a book called “A Short History of Lemmings” wherein they learn a terrible truth. Will Bertie and his friend be able to help the others? Lessons about snobbery, friendship, and loyalty can be shared after reading this little treasure, and kids will love learning that it’s not how much you can accomplish, necessarily, but how helpful and kind you can be. On a side note, my almost-four-year-old grandson (who loves this book) told my daughter at the dinner table tonight that he wanted to talk about table manners. She called me perplexed. Yes, the lemmings try – unsuccessfully – to teach the bear table manners. (Peachtree Press)
“The Bear in the Family” is written and illustrated by Maya Tatsukawa. It’s told in first person narrative about a boy who says he lives with a bear. And he can’t understand why his parents think this bear is family. The bear is loud and bossy and steals his food. And the bear teases him, too. But there’s a lot his parents don’t see, and when he gets bullied at the park, he wishes his bear was there. Incredibly, the bear shows up and frightens the bullies away. Then the boy lists all the ways having a big sister bear is nice until she yells back that she’s not a bear. It turns out that young brothers can tease, too. The unpredictable ending will make readers smile. (Dial Books)
“The Bear Must Go On” by Dev Petty and illustrated by Brandon Todd is an amusing picture book about four friends, Rabbit, Squirrel, Bear, and (cleverly named) Other Squirrel. The three smaller animals decide to plan a fabulous spring show. They work hard at organizing costumes, a stage, a curtain, hats, and tickets, and Bear takes copious notes throughout. He tells his friends that he doesn’t want to be in the show because he is too shy, but as they plan and he takes notes, he hums and he sings. But when finally, that night, the curtain rises, the four friends realize to their horror that they’ve forgotten something very important. The actual content of the show. What will they do? There’s only one of them who knows a song and can sing it. Will Bear step up? Will the bear go on? Kids will love discussing why the bear was frightened and then thinking of reasons why he might have changed his mind. It’s also a great opportunity to teach young kids that things don’t always go as planned, and what’s important is to do the best you can. They will certainly enjoy the cute illustrations and snappy text. (Philomel Books)
And lastly, a very clever, creative book in which there is a bear along with other forest animals, “What Could That Be?” by Reza Dalvand. The artwork alone makes this book stand out — the illustrations are bright and bold, created with crayons and oil paint. The bird on the title page is a piece of art with its red cheeks, royal blue belly with multicolor slashes, and purple circles and dots everywhere. It’s truly marvelous. And the first sentence gives an indication of the color that is to follow: “One day, the forest gleamed in colors more beautiful than ever before.” So it’s surprising that the subject of the story is a black blob that appears on the forest floor. Kids will love reading about what the various animals think the blob is, from a leopard’s spot to a fallen star to a piece of cat poop (the kids will roll on the floor on that page!). And in the end, the book doesn’t solve this mystery, but instead asks the reader to think about what the blob might be. A great activity would be for the kids to think about what it might be and write a story about it. Or for kids to rewrite the story with other animals and with a solution at the end. Or for the kids to make a book of all the things the black blob might be. The possibilities are endless, just as the author might have intended. Perfect for creative thinkers. (Scholastic Books)
Also read “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part One: Books to make you laugh,” “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Two: We’ve Gone to the Dogs,” “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Four: Books about feelings and self-care,” and “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Five: Nonfiction picture books.”
Please note: This review is based on picture books and advance copies received from the publishers for review purposes.