The Kirkus review for the book I feature here today, Eve Bunting’s Big Bear’s Big Boat, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, says the following:
“Bunting and Carpenter…team again with a story riding on a Thoreau-vian sensibility with a Zen serenity.”
Yes. Kudos to the reviewer who wrote that, because that pretty much nails it. And it’s what I love the most about this quiet, little (and I mean literally, as it has a small, square trim size) book.
But let’s back up a bit. When the reviewer writes that the author and illustrator team “again,” that’s because this is a sequel to Little Bear’s Little Boat, which was published last year. A child certainly doesn’t have to read this first book to understand the new one, but fans of the author or illustrator (or both) will want to check it out.
Bunting tells such sensitive and charming stories in her picture books. “Charming” gets overused by those who write about books, but she tells truly delightful tales. This one is no different, and its aforementioned “Zen serenity” just makes it all the more appealing.
Big Bear has given his boat to Little Bear. He’s outgrown it and builds a new one for himself. “You are just what I dreamed you would be” he mutters to his beautiful, teal-colored boat, once he’s done with its construction.
Just before he slides it into Huckleberry Lake, Beaver comes by to tell him he needs a mast. Bear’s look of contentment has disappeared from his face, only to be replaced with anxious eyebrows. He makes a mast for his boat.
Then Otter tells him all fine boats need a top deck. Blue Heron tells him he’ll need a cabin to sleep in. Disregarding his better instincts, he adds all three items to his new boat, steps back, and realizes he’s made a big mistake.
And, before merely ripping off the mast, deck and cabin with not a word to his well-meaning friends, he calls them together and thanks them for trying to help. “But I’m still the same bear I was before. Only now I’m bigger. And this boat is not my dream. A bear should never let go of his own dream.”
Very few authors can pull off a moment like this in a picture book like Eve Bunting can. Instead of hammering us over the head with a lesson, she eases right into the heart of the story with this gentle statement from Big Bear.
And, once he’s made good with his pals, he returns his boat to its original brilliance and simplicity and sets out to sail. He listens to the “lake water whispering its secrets.” He thinks, how nice it is to be me in a fine boat, sailing on a blue lake.
And if that doesn’t resonate with the hyper-scheduled, academically driven children of this country today, I don’t know what will. Slow down. Take a breath. Be happy with what you have.
I’ve gotten to where I get inordinately excited whenever I see that Nancy Carpenter has illustrated a new book. She’s quickly becoming one of my favorite illustrators. Here, she gives us a bit of a retro palette with her pen-and-ink and digital illustrations. There are many shades of cool blues in this one, and her relaxed lines give an overall fresh and serene tone to the story.
A sweet offering. Take a moment to enjoy it.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.