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Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Visitor for Bear

[cross-posted at Saffron Tree]

visitor for bear kady mcdonald dneton bonny becker children's book reviewA Visitor for Bear
by Bonny Becker
Illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton
Read Together Ages: 3-6


Author Bonny Becker's statement on the book flap aroused my curiosity: "I hesitate to admit how much Bear is in me, but I'm grateful for every lovely mouse in my life".

As I leafed through the pages, I was attracted to the delicately refined watercolor illustrations by one of Canada's foremost illustrators, Ms. Denton, wherein subtle body language and facial expressions convey the emotions and story just as much as the crisp and precise text.

No one ever came to Bear's house.
It has always been that way,
and Bear was quite sure he didn't like visitors.
He even had a sign.

Reclusive Bear doesn't like to encourage visitors. He has a sign on his door that says, "NO Visitors Allowed" to keep gregarious company away. He seems content with his solitary life, conducting his daily activities with measured precision that comes more out of habit than a desire to be exact.

It is almost comical to see this hulking Bear prepare for breakfast in a rather dainty way, with his little apron out and ready. That's when the story starts to unfold: Bear hears a tap tap tapping on the door, and not expecting his sign to be disregarded, Bear opens the door with a mixture of caution and apprehension to find a mouse "small and gray and bright-eyed" without.

Bear categorically states "Go Away" pointing to his sign on the door. The mouse seems to understand and leave quietly.

Bear then sets out one spoon and one cup for himself, almost ritualistically. When he opens the cupboard to get one bowl...
there was the mouse! Small and gray and bright-eyed.

visitor for bear kady mcdonald dneton bonny becker children's book review

I told you to leave!, Bear cries.
Perhaps we could have a spot of tea, ventures the mouse.

Bear shows him to the door and shuts it firmly.

However, Bear's ennui progressively escalates as he finds the persistent mouse popping up at all odd places in his house when he has clearly shooed him away, even gone so far as to lock the door, board the windows, stopper the chimney and plug up the drain.

The clever use of varying font sizes of the text for emphasis makes it almost impossible to read it aloud in a quiet monotone. Also, the author has given distinct voices for Bear and the mouse which makes it fun to read aloud. The mouse speaks in a polite and clipped tone, "Terribly sorry... Now you see me; now you don't. I am gone." Curmudgeonly Bear sounds gruff saying, "Away with you! Vamoose!" in a finicky yet comical way.

The illustration accompanying Bear roaring, "BEGONE!" is superb, with the mouse huddling in the background in the fridge where Bear least expects him while Bear is frozen in action mid-air theatrically.

Completely confounded, at the height of his frustration, Bear declares,
I give up. You win. I am undone.

When the mouse suggests having a cup of tea, perhaps a bit of cheese, and maybe a nice warm fire, Bear relents reluctantly. But then you must go, he says. You have my word, assures the mouse.

Bear sets out tea and cheese and a nice warm fire for two sets of toes. During the course of tea, enjoyed in relative silence, Bear clears his throat as if to speak. The mouse looks most attentive, surprising Bear, as no one had ever been attentive to him before. Slowly they warm up to each other. The mouse proves to be pleasant company and they end up laughing over Bear's joke.

When the mouse sets down his teacup, Bear quickly tries to refill it as a polite host. So sorry. Most Kind, but I must be on my way, says the mouse getting up to go.

What happens next is the beginnings of a beautiful friendship that is best left to the author and illustrator to share with you.

This heart-warming tale is a reminder to kids and adults alike that some days, we just want to be alone like Bear and we do all we can to discourage company. But, at times, when we follow the lead of the persistent mouse and reach out, undeterred, we might just be surprised by the rewards.

Ana points out at the initial pages how Bear is "not nice at all". "Why does he want the mouse to go away?" she wonders at the beginning. Then, she notices how Bear and the mouse are having fun together, laughing and joking. And, towards the end, "Why does he not want the mouse to go away now?" she asks. Only a satisfactory explanation about friendship and sharing seems to settle her back down for bed. Every time we read it.

A definite winner, this book, for adults and kids alike. I can't wait to read it to Oggie in a couple of years...

Listen to NPR Audio Clip about A Visitor for Bear.

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