Thursday, March 31, 2016

No Place Like Home: The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

One day in the forest, a young bear cub found something he'd never seen before.

What could this strange thing be? he thought. Shyly, he touched it with his stubby paws.

The strange thing made an awful sound.

But curiosity and a strange fascination with the thing brings the bear back over and over. An old-fashioned upright piano stands draped in creeping vines in a clearing in the forest, lit by beams of sunlight like theater lights. The old piano brings him back again the next day, and the day after that. And as he grows older and bigger, the sounds he gets from the strange object make him happy.

The sounds took him away from the forest, and he dreamed of strange and wonderful lands.

All the bears of the forest begin to gather daily for Bear's concerts and they stand transfixed.

Then one day a man and his daughter stumble across one of Bear's performances and invite him to come to the city to play for people and hear wondrous music...

"... sounds so beautiful thy will make your fur stand on end."

Sad to leave his friends but intrigued by the attraction of more wonderful music, Bear follows the two across the river to the big city...

And before long...... the bear's name was up in big, bright lights in the big, bright city.

Bear is the sensation of the season. In black tie and tails, he plays his music on sonorous grand pianos with such style and feeling that he fills ornate theaters with enthralled music lovers shouting BRAVO!

Bear is lionized! He receives awards. His recordings go platinum. He is a musical media darling. The big city is more wonderful than he imagined.

But one night after enjoying standing ovations, he sits on the roof of his apartment, his evening-slippered feet dangling, his bow tie untied, and he sees the moon, the same moon he watched back home. And he longs for his old favorite places and friends.

So back he goes, eager to share his story with his first fans. But when he reaches the clearing, the piano is... gone. Have his friends forgotten him? Have they forgotten his music?

But not to worry. A bear appears and leads him to a sight that makes his fur stand up all over again.

Under a spreading tree is a veritable shrine, with The Piano, surrounded by his recordings, clippings, albums, and even a Bear tee-shirt hanging from the tree's lower branches.

And Bear sits right down at the old upright and plays again for his first and best audience, in David Litchfield's delightful book, The Bear and the Piano (Houghton Mifflin Clarion Books 2016), forthcoming in its new American edition. Celebrated by reviewers of the earlier British edition, Litchfield's beguiling bear tale celebrates the power of music and the pull of friendship in equal measure, in carefully chosen phrases that let his gloriously textured illustrations, done in traditional media "assembled" digitally in delicious full-bleed spreads, to tell the story artistically, as it should be told. Bear as the artist goes forth to share his gifts and returns to his home to replenish the roots of his artistry, and that is, as poet Robert Frost says in another genre, "good both going and coming back."

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