A conversation about bear folk—creatures half-human and half-bear—takes place between a little girl and her father.
Ursula, wearing a nightgown and cuddling a teddy bear, sits with her father in an oversized chair. When she asks Daddy to tell her about the bear folk, he begins with the myth of how today’s bears descended from “Numitorum, the Great Bear of the Northern Sky.” The faded wallpaper behind the pair blurs into the next page’s star-studded sky, with gentle-looking polar bears moving along a path “woven from sunrays and moonbeams.” An apparently nightly ritual has begun. Every page turn brings text with a deft balance of exciting, often funny ideas and lulling rhythms, as readers learn that bear folk are still in the world today; they continue to live “extraordinary lives” until the Great Bear calls them back. The art, done in a muted, full-color palette, with graceful lines and gentle watercolors, is well-matched in tone. The pages are full of sweet-faced children, adults, and bears—implying that bear folk morph easily between their identities. Though Ursula and Daddy present white, other contemporary bear folk appear to be of many races. Friendships, a life well-lived, ecology, mortality—all are touched upon lightly as the child (whose name means “little bear,” of course) drifts into sleep. Disappointingly, the text—unlike the author's own website—gives no source for the tale the father tells: an elaboration of a core story from the Khanty people of Siberia; nor does the artwork hint of it, instead dressing early bear people in attire reminiscent of Native American stereotypes.
A sweet bedtime book with some significant gaps. (Picture book. 3-7)