Mixed messages and a main character who comes off as less a frightened youngster than a self-absorbed twit spoil Pearson’s debut.
The fault lies chiefly (but not wholly) with the illustrations. Scared by noises in the nighttime woods, Baby Bear slips out of his den. He climbs a tall tree, rips down the starry sky like a curtain and proceeds to eat it. He callously brushes off the protests of a field mouse, a firefly and a bat in his determination to eradicate the night. He loses his fear of the dark when his mother appeals to self-interest by explaining that the dark helps bears survive, too. Despite being capable of pulling down the sky, he is portrayed by Leick not as a powerful figure or, considering his motives, even an anxious one, but as a chubby-cheeked teddy bear who exudes smug self-satisfaction as he continues to chew away despite the pleas of other creatures. Ultimately Baby Bear belches out the sky in what would be a comical climax were it not depicted as a few almost unnoticeable gassy wisps issuing from his mouth and disappearing into the page’s gutter.
Not only is Baby Bear’s loss of fear too sudden to be believable, the art pays no mind to his inner emotional landscape and turns what is essentially a tale of mythic proportions into a cozy bit of feel-good ephemera. (Picture book. 5-7)