Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo
(cover artwork by Svetlana Kononova)
Published by Oxford University Press
The bear wakes again. Someone is there. Her sensitive nose tells her immediately that it is not her cubs, that it is not another bear. But, under the perfumed shampoo and soap and deodorant, she smells another animal. Whatever it is, it is alive. And it is small and cold.
She rolls again, flings out her great arm and drags the thing to her chest. It is a comfort to feel it warming beneath her touch.
Whilst out snow shoeing, exhausted and cold, Darcy seeks refuge in a cave. She falls asleep under the protective arm of an injured, hibernating grizzly bear. Despite knowing the dangers, Darcy feels a connection ‘a pull’ towards the bear and returns to the cave. The bear has been shot because she was trying to defend her cubs. Now without them and dying from the wound in her shoulder she relies on Darcy to bring her food. Using her need for fresh air to help her recovery from pneumonia Darcy begins to feed the bear in secret. The outcome is inevitable and sobering, but is handled very wisely by Thebo who ensures Darcy takes responsibility for her actions.
There is much to like about this novel for young adults. It is well written and reflects Thebo’s experience and love of the bears in Yellowstone. Thebo writes
When bears climb into your mind, I don’t think they leave it again. I still dream of bears.
I am recommending this novel to all Grade 6 plus students. I think the themes of homesickness, relationships with parents, first romantic feelings and of course the dramatic buildup to what will happen to the bear and Darcy will be enjoyed by a wide range of students.
For examining human impact on bear populations from sharing the wilderness to using them for ‘medicine’ Thebo has written an informative, clever and cracking good read. There is an interview with Kerry Gunther a biologist for the Bear Management Team in Yellowstone and a page of grizzly bear facts at the end of the novel.
Would things have turned out differently for Darcy if she had read:
A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by David Roberts
Going for a walk in BEAR country? is the enticing invite to a field guide for bear spotters as facts, captions and graph paper enter the mixed up world of children’s picture books were bears can be caught in a bubble of gum and a teddy bear can also be Ursus Horibilis‘ toy too.
Our intrepid ‘bear spotter’ is taught the difference between black and brown bears. The facts are hilariously illustrated by Roberts and yet the underlying message is very clear: let wild bears alone to do their own thing and don’t get confused between your cuddly toy bear and one in the wild. The last page serves as a clear warning! I like the Guardian’s take, “the book is cannily balanced between the alarming, the comical and the reassuring. Children will relish the mix.”
Illustrations by the wonderful David Roberts (Iggy Peck Architect is one of our favourites in the library – particularly with Grade 2!)
This would be a good time to use your pepper spray.
Bears can be dangerous.
The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond
Published by Enchanted Lion
This is the most gorgeous book in every way. The illustrations both of the polar bears surviving on their snowy landscapes and the little girl who follows along with her toy arctic fox cleverly merge facts with just a hint of a child’s imagination. I learnt lots of facts about polar bears and the most interesting one was that like trees, polar bear teeth have rings that correspond to the age of the bear. I would have liked a map included so I could see where polar bears live in relation to me. My photos do not do justice to this book. One teacher said “Look! You can touch its fur!” I suggest you buy two – one to keep and one to give as a present. You will be thanked!
The gold sticker on the front cover indicates that Jenni Desmond was a Sendak Fellowship Recipient.
The goal of The Sendak Fellowship, in Sendak’s words, is for the Fellows to “ . . . create work that is not vapid or stupid, but original; work that excites and incites. Illustration is like dance; it should move like—and to—music.”
When wet, polar bears shake water and ice out of their fur just like dogs.
When polar bears stand up on their hind legs, it’s so they can smell the air even better.