URSA’S LIGHT Written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero (Peter Pauper Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
★ Starred Review – Booklist
As a preschool teacher, it is not lost on me when a child has a BIG idea, but may need some help executing the plan. Ursa’s Light, the debut picture book by author and illustrator Deborah Marcero, is about a young bear, Ursa, who has BIG ideas that often leave her peers and parents scratching their heads in wonder.
Ursa the bear knows that she is meant to FLY. She studies animals and planes in flight, intent on finding a solution, often encouraged by her baby brother. Just when she is about to give up, we discover that she was indeed meant to fly, but there is more than one way to SOAR.
One of my favorite moments in the story is when Ursa’s failed attempts at flying make her doubt herself, and her baby brother is wearing a shirt that reads ‘believe.’ What a beautiful moment, and something I strive to teach my kids, when one of us is down, someone else can help lift us UP.
What is so brilliant about Ursa the bear, is that she isn’t attempting to outshine anyone; instead, she is allowing her unique inner light to pour out, inspiring not only her baby brother, but everyone around her.
I fell in love with the energy and emotion of the illustrations which Marcero’s website describes best here: “When the pencil is done… I ink the lines in and add color with all the media I had used all along : woodblock cuts, watercolor, gouache, ink wash, etc. But instead of meshing everything together on paper with scissors and glue, I taught myself how to collage them in Photoshop. Ursa’s face is that same woodblock cut as my very first piece above, and all the textures and colors I integrate are things that I come up with using brushes and inks and watercolors on my drawing table.” I hope it’s obvious how much I adore this book and can’t wait to bring in Ursa’s Light for my preschoolers! I have a feeling they are going to want me to help them fly too!
Reviewed by Ozma Bryant, our newest reviewer. To learn more about Ozma, please click here.
“I sometimes wonder what Kuma-Kuma Chan does during the day?”
Japanese author and illustrator Kazue Takahashi poses a seemingly simple question in Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear, this small, slim, 2001 Japanese picture book for young readers, newly translated into English. However, the deceptively simple answers and accompanying illustrations reveal an important, almost Zen-like quality that should resonate with all of us.
Kuma-Kuma Chan (“cute little bear”) lives alone in the mountains, in a place difficult for visitors to reach. So how does he spend his day? Well, after waking up, he fixes himself a big salad with lettuce and tomatoes from his own garden. As he pours milk in his coffee, he draws small pictures. He carefully sweeps the house and does some shopping. Then a nap is in order. Later, he gazes at the clouds and listens to the falling rain. In the spring, he pulls weeds, and in the summer he needs to cut his fur to stay cool. Fall is good for love songs and winter would is perfect for reading and following a patch of sunlight around the room.
Alone, but not lonely, Kuma-Kuma lives an unhurried, simple but purposeful life, free from all the clutter and distractions of our modern world. He enjoys his solitude and finds joy in his routines, taking time to live in the moment, and observe what’s going on around him.
Takahashi’s illustrations complement the calm and contemplative narrative and the cuddly Kuma-Kuma Chan. Using a kid-friendly design, Takahashi frees the double page spreads from distractions and accentuates the picture book’s simplicity by focusing children’s attention on one simple and easy-to-read sentence opposite a tiny, sparingly colored illustration.
A tender and soothing story for our jammed packed lives and especially appropriate around the frantic “holidaze.” Use this story as a discussion starter on how we could live and benefit from, at least periodically, a less complicated life like Kuma-Kuma Chan’s.
Visit Museyon to learn about Kazue Takahashi. The publisher also has displayed several of the book’s pages here.
Kazue ends her story with the sentence “I’m happy to think that Kuma-Kuma Chan has fun during the day and that he is doing well.” I am, too.
A boy and his teddy bear are watching Our Furry Planet on television. When the host of the show accidentally awakens two hibernating bears, a breaking news report shows up on the screen. Soon the bears are having a grand time, catching a ride on a truck, eating porridge at Teddy’s Diner, and having their turn in a photo booth outside of Bare Necessities Food Mart. Their escapades are caught by the sky cam, but the bears manage to elude the police and animal control officers. While the authorities are preoccupied with the bears’ shenanigans, two sticky-fingered criminals are up to no good. When the crooks rob Paddington’s department store, they’re caught on sky cam. They might have pulled off their caper had they not run right into the bears and their ice cream cones.
BREAKING NEWS Bears nab burglars. Skycam 3 shows police closing in to make the arrest.
The bears get a heroes’ sendoff and go back to their den to hibernate.
What an original and funny story idea! Breaking News: Bear Alert is so cleverly told (don’t you just love the names of the stores?!), and Biedrzycki’s illustrations, done in Adobe Photoshop, made me feel as if I were watching a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. This is a picture book that is sure to grab, and keep, the attention of even the most reluctant reader. In other words, there’ll be no hibernating in your home with this book around.
Read an interview with the author/illustrator, David Biedrzycki here.
Forever, by Emma Dodd (Templar/Candlewick Press, $12.99, Ages 2-5) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Perfect for reading and snuggling at bedtime, this is a sweet and simple book for parent and child to share and enjoy. In a vast white Arctic wilderness, this engaging bear pair plays, cuddles, swims and sleeps side by side. The quiet, comforting text assures little bear that his parent will always be there to encourage, reassure, and guide him. Spare but captivating prose perfectly carries the story forward through the book.
The illustrations are both muted and show-stopping, so lovely that you must pause and appreciate the scale and setting on each page. We see the bears close and cuddling, but also venturing through their snowy home beneath the Northern Lights, under swirling snowflakes, or paddling through a brilliant silver sea. Foil softly enhances the scenes as sparkling stars, moon, snow and water, adding an extra dimension of depth and interest.
The sweet-faced little cub absorbs the calm and steady wisdom of his parent throughout the tale, whether happy, blue, worried or hopeful. Ending with the enduring promise that (“No matter what may come as we journey on together…know that deep within my heart, I will love you…forever.”) this tale will be a warm and lovely bedtime favorite.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own. Disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
I just couldn’t light the last Hanukkah candle tonight without sharing a few more terrific Hanukkah picture books for 2013. These are three books you’ll want to keep to read again next Hanukkah.
According to the copyright page, Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8, also available as an ebook) first appeared in Cricket, the Magazine for Children in 1988 and as a picture book titled The Chanukkah Guest with illustrations by Giora Carmi, in 1990.
I’m so glad Holiday House decided to bring out this charming book again, this time with a revised text and new artwork. Whether you read this story in the ’80s, ’90s or are reading it now for the first time, it will not disappoint. Grown-ups and kids alike will get such a kick out of the joyful and humourous Hanukkah tale featuring hungry Old Bear just awoken from hibernation to the smells of cooking latkes, and ninety-seven year old Bubba Brayna, a spry old villager who can neither see nor hear well anymore. Expecting the rabbi, Bubba Brayna opens the front door after hearing a thump and mistakes Old Bear for the rabbi. She then proceeds to have him join her as she lights the Menorah, plays a game of dreidel and finally feeds him. Old Bear “Rrrrrumphs” and “Grrrroooowrs” throughout the evening with Bubba Brayna filling in bits of conversation here and there. The sweet cover image of Old Bear licking Bubba Brayna after receiving his lovely red Hanukkah scarf should be a clue to the youngest readers that the story has a delightful ending and only latkes get eaten!! Plus Wohnoutka’s illustrations have a glowing quality about them that add to the warmth of the story. The end pages contain a handy latke recipe and author’s notes about the holiday for those less familiar with the celebration.
Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah, by Jamie Korngold with illustrations by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback, Ages 2-6), is another fun story for children. Sadie loves school, her teacher Morah Rachel and the approaching holiday of Hanukkah. When Hanukkah arrives she knows she’ll spin dreidels, eat potato latkes with applesauce (my favorite, too!) and light the menorah with her family. The best part for Sadie is that she and her classmates get to make their very own menorahs from clay. In school she works hard to knead, roll and shape her menorah. Sadie decides to paint hers pink with blue squiggles and can’t wait until Friday when she can bring it home. But when her mother arrives at school to pick her up, Sadie rushes to her and drops the menorah. The handmade treasure breaks into “a million, zillion pieces!” The clever way Sadie’s mom handles the disaster leads to a new family tradition that makes for a very happy, unique ending. Fortenberry’s colorful artwork complements the text and conveys just the perfect amount of emotion and detail to help move the story forward. The three candle blessings included in the end are terrific to have especially since our family has only ever known just one to say.
For the youngest kids at home, there’s Eight is Great, (Kar-Ben, $5.95, Ages 1-4), by Tilda Balsley with illustrations by Hideko Takahashi, a board book with each page detailing some aspect of Hanukkah incorporating the number eight. Whether it’s eight days and nights to celebrate, or eight candles lit, Balsley finds just the right descriptions in simple rhymes. Of course there are eight places to set at the table and eight latkes to fill the guests’ plates. “There’s more,” says the dad in this family, “don’t hesitate.” Mom helps with eight presents to wrap and for those new to playing dreidel, there are four sides and if you play with two, that makes a total of eight! The story ends, as many a Hanukkah tale does, by remembering “heroes long before us” helping make this picture book complete with just 12 pages. Takahashi’s jewel-toned illustrations light up the board book making this an ideal introduction to the Festival of Lights.