Sunday, September 14, 2014

What Everyone Needs: The Little Bear Book by Anthony Browne



A little white bear, wearing only a jaunty red bow tie and carrying only a pencil, sets out for a walk in a forest.

First he meets a gorilla, a sad and lonely gorilla. Little Bear sees that what Gorilla needs is a friend. Quickly he draws a miniature version of himself and hands it to Gorilla, who sits down against a tree and cuddles his new little bear.

Little Bear walks on until he meets a crocodile, his big, scary mouth wide open. Little Bear knows what to do: he draws a trumpet and sticks it quickly in Crocodile's mouth. That should keep Croc busy... and making music.

Little Bear meets a disgruntled lion and intuits just what he needs--a kingly crown--and Lion departs with his royal head held high.

Finally, he greets an elephant and Little Bear just knows that Elephant needs a little white mouse to protect. Leaving the two to get to know each other, Little Bear walks away, his work done. But he soon comes to a wall. How can he get himself out of this story?

In a simple story in which most youngsters will recognize the premise used so famously in Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon Board Book, the much-loved Anthony Browne's offers The Little Bear Book (Candlewick Press, 2014). Browne is one of those author-illustrators who finds no imaginative limits within the flat and foursquare pages of a book. His ventures into magical realism go back to his early Piggybook, in which greedy piggish behavior spreads throughout the house, with the big roses on the wallpaper morphing into pig faces as the sloppy dad and boys become more piglike daily, and have continued through his more recent books such as Gorilla and Little Beauty (see my 2009 review here). Little Bear's special powers to give others what they need is a metaphor for the writer and artist, a meaning that children will understand with their hearts.

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