Within a gentle tale of hibernation and renewal, the Steads’ second collaboration (after Caldecott-winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee) explores a second, internal theme: the nature of the storytelling narrative itself.
Increasingly sleepy, Bear pads through the fall landscape with “a story to tell” before winter’s sleep. Mouse, Duck, Frog and Mole are well into their own winter preparations and cannot listen. Months later, when the reunited friends gather beneath a full moon, Bear can’t remember his story. Helpfully, his friends suggest a protagonist (“Maybe your story is about a bear”), a plot (“Maybe your story is about the busy time just before winter”), and supporting characters (themselves). Thus, Bear begins his story as this one ends: The first line of his story is both the last line of the book and its first. Erin Stead’s pictures quietly appeal: Pencil line and shading define basic features of animals and trees, while washes and smudges of paint suggest seasonal colors, Bear’s rotund mass, and the brushy cobalt expanse of starlit skies. Sharing an affinity with Jerry Pinkney yet evoking the sparer 1960s work of Evaline Ness and Nonny Hogrogian, Stead’s compositions exude an ineffable, less-is-more charm.
The Steads’ work adopts a folkloric approach to cooperative relationships; the affectionately rendered animals that stand in for humans convey a nurturing respect for child readers. (Picture book. 3-7)