A box of Grateful Dead bear dolls brings a grandfather and granddaughter closer in this retelling of a true family story by debut author Bratt and debut artist High.
Four-year-old Ava’s grandfather wants to give her a surprise for Christmas. He spent a year collecting 100 colorful, cuddly Grateful Dead bears (which were inspired by one of the group’s album-cover illustrations), each one different. Just before the holiday, he puts them in a huge box under the tree. Ava loves them immediately, and she and her grandfather bond over learning the names and colors of the friendly dolls. The bears themselves are grateful to have such a wonderful home with a girl who loves them so much. Even as Ava gets older, and the bears spend more time in a basket and less time on display, she remembers each of their names and loves them. But after the family cat acts out by spraying Ava’s bears instead of using his litter box, the girl’s mother kicks them out of the house. The bears are terrified but still glad to be with one another: “Ava’s Grateful Bears had an amazing gift / of always finding something to be grateful for.” After a long, cold winter of living outside, Ava’s grandfather attempts to rescue them, and although it takes time, he succeeds in restoring them. Ava can again share her love of the (now-clean) bears with her friends. That Christmas, Ava and her grandfather tie ribbons to each bear and decorate the tree with them. The book’s plot sometimes stumbles, due to sticking close to true events, and the bears’ thoughts are only intermittently revealed. But the overall story of the bears’ journey is delightful, and the love between Ava and her grandfather is touching. High’s illustrations capture the joy of the Grateful Bears and feature their unique colors and patterns; some images are filled to the brim with bears in the background. It would have been nice if Bratt had better explained why the dolls are called Grateful Dead bears, but his emphasis on keeping a grateful heart and attitude comes through clearly.
A kids’ book that adults, and especially fans of the Grateful Dead, will be able to valuably share with the youngsters in their lives.