February 29, 2012

Bear and Kite & Bear and Ball

Bear and Kite
Bear and Ball
By Cliff Wright; illus. by author
0-2 Preschool Chronicle Books 16 pp.
0-8118-4820-5 Board $5.95
0-8118-4819-1 Board $5.95

With Bear and Kite and Bear and Ball (as well as the other two books in the series - Bear and Boat and Bear and Box), artist Cliff Wright, best known for illustrating the Harry Potter series, introduces young readers to the concept of opposites using two bears, an object and a series of related actions that form a simple narrative arc. Both books begin with a lovely watercolor illustration of a bear with the single word, "Bear", beneath it. On the facing page, the titular object is introduced and, with the page turn, the sets of opposites commence in clean rhyming couplets ("Bear and kite; Black and white; Play and fight" and so on). The couplets take the bears through the major actions of the day - flying a kite and playing with a ball - from build-up to denouement (in Kite, the two bears snuggle at the end for "Day and night" while in Ball, the two bears tumble together, "One and all"). The final two pages are given to a reiteration of the action, from beginning to end, with minimized illustrations that emphasize the opposites and introduce sequence.

The couplets in both books are simple and predictable but not trite, inviting verbal children to rhyme along while simultaneously telling the story in language that is spare but inviting. The only reason this review is comparative is because of the composition of the illustrations. In Bear and Kite, the illustrations are wide open, with both bears occupying a space full of blue sky and friendly meadow. The uncluttered environment makes it easy for young eyes to see, and therefore understand, the opposites being presented through the action. In Bear and Ball, the illustrations are more cluttered with a craggy cliff and a twisted tree vying with the bears and the ball for space. It's a small thing, but the relative narrowness of the illustrations make the text slightly less effective, and though the illustrations are beautiful and emotionally eloquent, they lack the efficacy of their counterparts in Kite. For this reason alone, Bear and Kite is the stronger of the pair. For older readers with eyes for detail, the composition of Bear and Ball would be little to no challenge, but for the very young, Bear and Kite bridges the visual gap in a way that makes the concept of opposites clear and welcoming.

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