Bird’s new in the forest, and as much as he’d like to befriend Bear, he never quite gets up the courage to say hello.
When Bear happens upon a bouncing red balloon, one that dances and plays, Bird watches, hidden behind branches and tree trunks. Muted, wintry colors and recurring round shapes perfectly describe both Bird’s vulnerability and his meek desire for friendship. Looking at Bird’s plump belly, the balloon’s swollen circumference, Bear’s pillow-y body and ears, as well as at trees with dot-shaped leaves and at the loop-the-loop roller coaster and circling Ferris wheel in the distance, young readers will internalize an enveloping sense of roundness and soft edges, coming to recognize it as the very shape and feel of empathy. They know how Bird feels. They might remember peering out from behind caregivers’ legs to scout potential playmates, kicking pebbles in the recess yard, giving hopeful looks to another loner practicing handstands, meeting the eager, glinting eyes of a fellow camper across the campfire. Na’s illustrations—painterly layers of color, texture, and intuitive shapes—conjure tender associations, making his simple story not only immensely pleasing, but important. When Bird tries to rescue the balloon from the wind, making himself known, there’s a familiar rush of relief and joy. And a POP! that leads not to disaster but to friendship.
As simple and soft as a hug—and as reassuring. (Picture book. 2-6)