Despite appealing pictures of mischievous bears, this story lacks teeth.
Bear cubs Pete and Gabby lament the end of camping season at Happy Time Campground and go to town in search of people and food. Bear-savvy readers may note a sign in Kirkland’s opening illustration reading, “Don’t Feed The Bears,” which suggests that Pete and Gabby have already encountered people who know not to interact with them. Nevertheless, in the ensuing brief chapters, the cubs are mystified by the townspeople’s fearful reactions on a soccer field, in an ice-cream shop and at the post office and fire station. It’s unclear whether the bears’ dialogue is understandable to the humans—especially when they respond, “PEOPLE!” to the humans’ cries of “BEARS!” Ultimately, Pete and Gabby occupy an odd space of quasi-anthropomorphism: They are bearlike in their presumed threat to people, and yet they can stuff mailboxes, wave to passersby and revel in slapstick mishaps in town. Finally, they simply ride back to the forest atop a fire truck after their “friend” the ranger comes to fetch them—no tranquilizer guns required.
In what seems like a new golden age of early readers, this just isn’t a standout. (Early reader. 5-7)