BEAR HAS A STORY TO TELL
By Philip C. Stead
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Roaring Brook. $16.99. Ages 4-7
As nights arrive earlier and earlier and leaves begin their annual descent, the urge to curl up with a good book may well battle with the urge to snuggle down for a long afternoon nap. On the opening pages of this circular story, a stout brown bear finds himself caught in just such a dilemma. “It was almost winter,” Philip C. Stead writes, “and Bear was getting sleepy. But first, Bear had a story to tell.” He approaches Mouse, who is too busy gathering seeds to stop and listen. So Bear pitches in to help. In similar fashion, he helps Duck and Frog as they prepare for the coming cold. By the time he discovers Mole sound asleep in his underground home, the battle to stay awake is lost. A turn of the page reveals an oblivious Bear beneath a blanket of snow. Erin E. Stead’s magical illustrations turn what might seem like a tale of frustration and loneliness into a tenderly detailed homage to the natural order of life. In the first half of the book, Bear is set against a plain white background, keeping the focus squarely on our hirsute hero and his diminutive companions. But the tale turns on the moment when Bear realizes his last possible audience — Mole — is down for the count: Ingeniously, the format requires readers to give the book a quarter turn to enjoy this new perspective. The backgrounds in the second half grow gradually lush with watery blues, spring greens and cheery yellows as the world — and Bear — wakes up again. Does Bear ever get to tell his story? Of course, and like all good storytellers, he does so with a tiny bit of help from his friends.