April 16, 2012

A Visitor for Bear

A Visitor for Bear
By Bonny Becker
Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
2-4 Preschool Primary Candlewick 56 pp.
978-0763628079 Hardcover $15.99

A Visitor for Bear, the first book in Bonny Becker's New York Times Bestselling Bear and Mouse series, recounts the beginning of that now famous, if unlikely, friendship. It is the story of Bear, a reclusive sort who doesn't like visitors (he even has a sign) and the mouse who wears him down.

At the beginning of the book, it is plainly stated that "No one ever came to Bear's house. It had always been that way, and Bear was quite sure that he didn't like visitors." He lives a quiet, if stuffy, existence, one fully embodied by his sniffy annoyance at the "tap, tap, tapping" on his front door. There stands a mouse, "small and gray and bright-eyed," looking oddly determined. Bear sends him away. What follows is a series of comedic interruptions, with Bear trying to make his solitary breakfast while Mouse pops up in drawers and behind bread. Finally, Bear (in tears after having stoppered the chimney and plugged the tub) lets Mouse stay.

Bear's revelation, that having a friend might be nice, comes about with gentle inevitability and good humor, but there is a depth to this story that belies its easy moral. 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 by exposing Bear's vulnerabilities. Mouse listens to Bear. He takes an interest and laughs at his jokes - all new experiences for Bear - so that when Mouse says he has to go, Bear's despair is painful and understandable. Happily, 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.

Even without Kady MacDonald Denton's fantastic watercolor illustrations (done with characteristic warmth and expressiveness), A Visitor for Bear is a charming story with real emotional depth. The use of repeated phrases (such as "there was the mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed") and an expert sense of pacing make it a pleasure to read. Toddlers and preschoolers will no doubt laugh as Bear's hysteria reaches fever pitch. But those who are a bit more sensitive will also enjoy the story's quieter aspects as Bear makes a friend and alleviates the loneliness he didn't know he had.

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