A text-heavy picture book presents an existential quandary…
…but it can’t seem to decide whether or not it would really rather be a nonsensical one. As this book was originally published in German, perhaps something was lost in (the uncredited) translation? The titular Bear who wasn’t there suddenly is there after an Itch scratches itself on a tree and becomes a bear. The Bear then discovers a pocket in its fur and a list of clues below the question “ARE YOU ME?” and ventures off to see if it is indeed “A VERY NICE BEAR…A HAPPY BEAR…VERY HANDSOME TOO.” Encounters with various animals in the Fabulous Forest eventually lead the Bear to conclude that he is both very nice and happy, but he's still not sure about the handsome part. Eventually he ends up at a house with a sign on the door reading “HOME OF THE BEAR WHO WASN’T THERE (please enter quietly, he may be asleep).” Once inside, the Bear sees his reflection in the mirror and decides that, yes, he is handsome too. Throughout, Erlbruch’s playful, distinctive illustrations outshine the text and offer ample visual interest, which may help readers sustain interest despite the rambling and often confusing text.
The picture book as a whole isn’t quite all there, but the pictures are sublime. (Picture book. 4-8)