Picture books are full of odd-couple friendships, plenty of which feature a bear; this example stands out in splendid composition and an unsettling dynamic.
Five stories showcase the domestic and emotional relationship between Maudie, a little girl in old-fashioned garb, and Bear, looming over Maudie with a curved body and gentle expression. Bear gives Maudie everything, from night-time dancing to a comforting lap after a Goldilocks-inspired forest scare. However, roles are oddly unclear: Bear seems too pandering for a parent, too ever-present for a babysitter. But nor are they peers, in the classic Frog and Toad mold. Is Bear a stuffed animal, fantasy-enlarged? Perhaps, because Bear caters to Maudie’s every desire, and a toy bear on wheels (Bear’s real form?) appears frequently; but Bear hurts Maudie’s feelings twice, which doesn’t seem fantasy-bear–like. (They make up both times, but both events are significant.) Humor lies in Maudie’s exercising by sitting in a bike basket while Bear peddles or picking dandelions and fussing (“You forgot to peel the grapes”) instead of helping fix their snack. Maudie’s more self-entitled than amusingly childlike; Bear’s an agreeable doormat when not laughing at her. The illustrations are more palatable. Soft watercolors inhabit loose, sketchy pencil lines. Blackwood’s inventive compositions dance and change on every page, with visual material from spreads hiding creatively behind multi-sized sequential picture boxes.
There’s fascinating aesthetic composition here, if the relationship doesn’t distract. (Picture book. 3-6)