July 12, 2009

A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker & You've Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave

I don't usually read children's picture books, mostly because I don't have children. But for several months, I've been reading a lot of them as research for several projects. Many of the picture books I've read are cute but, for the most part, nothing special. I have come across two, however, that made a serious impression. 

The first, Bonny Becker's A Visitor for Bear, I heard read on the radio before I read it for myself. Daniel Pinkwater, the great children's book author, was on NPR's week-end edition. He read through Becker's A Visitor for Bear, which is about Bear, a reclusive sort who doesn't like visitors (he even has a sign) and the mouse who wears him down. Even without seeing Kady MacDonald Denton's illutrations (which are lovely and expressive) I was completely charmed by the story. Bear's revelation, that maybe friends are a good thing, comes around with gentle inevitability and good humor. To see the apron wearing Bear exhausted into providing tea and a crackling fire for the cheeky mouse is one thing, but Becker takes it further, exposing Bear's vulnerabilities - the mouse listens to him, takes an interest and laughs at his jokes, which are all new experiences for Bear - so that when the mouse says he has to go, Bear's despair is painful and understandable. Happily the mouse ends up staying and the pair enjoy a second cup of tea by Bear's fire, a comforting ending to a moment of genuine catharsis and change on Bear's part.

The second book, You've Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave and illustrated by Nick Maland, is the sort of book I wish I'd had as a child. The dragons are humorous stand-ins for the very real fears and anxieties children (and adults) have. The book goes through all of the things we tend to do when we've got dragons - we ignore them, yell at them, hide from them, fight them, and yet they keep growing bigger until we're expert dragon-havers. But, if we take a different approach, if we acknowledge our dragons, give them names (I liked Montgomery the Math Test Dragon), know what they look like and treat it with respect, the dragon shrinks, until one day it disappears. But the really wonderful thing is that it gives no false promises to the child reader, ending with the line, "now you'll know what to do the next time you've got dragons." You will get more dragons and that's ok, because now you know what to do. It's a comforting message, and practical advice that both children and adults could benefit from, delivered in a humorous and charming package.  

Very often, children's books are formulaic, or didactic, or saccharine, or simply nothing special. Every once in a while though, you come across a book that reminds you of why you loved picture books as a child. A Visitor for Bear and You've Got Dragons are two such books. I will very proudly read them to our children should we be lucky enough to have them, and if we aren't, I'm very happy to have them on my shelf anyway. 


Anonymous said...

OH, I LOVE both of these books! If you are looking for some other good ones, I have a few I can tell you about when I get home (I can't recall the titles off the top of my head, but the stories are etched in there. ;) )

Madeleine said...

That would be great Audie. I'd really appreciate it!

JimDesu said...

Even *I* liked _You've Got Dragons_.

Although _You've Got Dragoons!_ might be even more fun.

Madeleine said...

I actually typo-ed Dragoons a couple of times. I'm betting there are plenty of Scots who would have preferred the Dragons :-)

Convivialdingo said...

Oh, thanks for the suggestions!! There are just tons of Children's books out and very few that are really very good these days.

A few titles I enjoy are "Jamberry", "Little Bear" (of course!) and "The Little Mouse, The red ripe strawberry, and the big hungry bear!"

I also enjoyed "Princess & the Kiss" and "Squire and the scroll" - though they're not board books.

Madeleine said...

Awesome Convivialdingo - I'll check them out. I especially appreciate recommendations from parents and folks who've had something to do with kids on more than the "hey, neat! it's a kid" level of experience I've got :-)

provato events said...

Bonny Becker will be on blog tour Nov. 1-7, 2009. Contact me if you would like to schedule an interview.