Can young Simon’s campaigns to protect vulnerable bears help this lonely child gain confidence and connection?
Seven-year-old Simon’s classmates bully him for stuttering. He copes by focusing on his love of bears, admiring their powerful presence. Simon’s fascination spurs him to action when he learns that logging threatens brown bear habitat. The white boy writes letters to political leaders and raises funds with a lemonade stand he opens especially to save the bears. When the bears’ habitat is eventually saved, Simon believes that “[h]is words had helped make a difference” and takes up a new cause as a teenager: organizing a student letter-writing campaign on behalf of rare spirit bears. As Simon prepares to make classroom presentations, he admonishes himself: “TRY.” As if through sheer force of will, he speaks without stuttering and inspires his classmates to join his campaign. Oliver’s narrative leaps forward, and readers may find Simon’s exponential impact startling: his founding of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition (which “millions” join), his friendship with Jane Goodall, and his participation in a spirit bear research expedition. Only passing mention is made of “local Indigenous communities” that were central to the real-life spirit bear campaign. Sadly, this story employs both a white savior complex (despite brown-skinned background characters in Dockrill’s wan illustrations) and upsetting disability tropes in which disabled people overcome their conditions if only they try hard enough.
A simplistic, whitewashed view of social change paired with a shallow framing of disability. (author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 7-9)