In this children’s tale in verse, a young bear has a heart operation and must find his way home to hibernate before winter sets in.
In 1955, winter is coming to Bear Ridge, Tennessee, and Elijah “Eli” Benjamin Bear—the story’s narrator—is born two months premature with a heart problem. The local, human doctors aren’t equipped to handle it, so they send Eli 600 miles away to Heroic Hearts hospital in Duck Bill, Mississippi. However, his parents can’t go with him; his father, a traveling salesman, is away, and his 400-pound mother won’t fit in the humans’ van. Eli’s mom sends him off with a special blanket that will give him wisdom and the ability to speak human language, as well as a code of essentials for life, written by his father. At the hospital, Eli gets necessary treatment—even though he’s the only nonhuman there—and he makes friends with his roommate, Billy, who kindly gives him his stuffed rabbit. Also kind is Nurse Dora, who provides Eli with sage advice about listening to his heart and asking for help from the “Great Bear Spirit.” Realizing that it’ll soon be time to hibernate, Eli conceives a bold plan to return home. It will require help from several friends and all his newfound wisdom. In his debut, Price confusingly melds the human and bear worlds; for example, it’s puzzling that Billy is astonished that Eli can talk, but that the Duck Bill doctors aren’t surprised at all. Still, the book offers a surprisingly successful blend of humor, self-help spirituality, and sweetness in verse that rhymes and scans well. When Eli asks Nurse Dora if she herself knows the Great Bear, she replies, “Love takes many forms. / For bears it is more furry, / But for all, love is the norm.” This is a perfectly wonderful concept, and one that’s emblematic of the book’s overall flavor. Bayouth’s (There’s a Zebra in My Hospital Room!, 2016) pencil drawings are cartoonish in style, but detailed, lively, and expressive.
A book that introduces kids to inner-wisdom concepts in an unusual, entertaining, and warmhearted manner.