I could have called this blog post Liska’s Favourite Books, and it would have been just as fair. For of all the books we collected for Budster over the first year, Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson was without doubt my favourite. Now the choice would be more difficult to make, but I still hold it in high regard and consider it to be one of the best books for the youngest readers.
The words of this book wrap around us like the fluffy snow blanket on the bear’s den and give a feeling of comfort, as the book takes me and my adventure buddy on an enchanting journey to a winter forest for the hundredth time. There it is a cold and frosty night; only a small fire made by an industrious mouse glimmers in the great bear’s den. Soon more animals are to join the mouse, attracted by the friendly light. There is a hare and a badger, followed by a gopher, a mole, a raven and a wren. The choice of animals is refreshingly unconventional: there are so many interesting animals in the forest that seldom make it into books. As each animal arrives, more food appears as well, and soon there is a stew in the cauldron, and dancing around the fire. “But the bear snores on”, goes the refrain of the story. Will the great bear wake up in the end and scare them away?
Karma Wilson charms her readers into truly seeing the forest, warming by the fire and participating into a midnight animal party, for her words have smell, sound and taste. Her bear does not just growl – he gnarls and snarls, roars and rumbles, jumps and stomps, growls and grumbles. While her mouse is such a tiny creature, that even the words describing her have to be small.
An itty-bitty mouse,
Creep-crawls in the cave
From the fluff-cold snow.
When I came upon this stanza for the first time, I knew immediately that I would have a great time reading this book and making animals speak, walk on tiptoes and, in the bear’s case, gnarl, snarl, roar and so on.
And so I did. I was so eager for Budster to share this book with me that as soon as he was patient enough to sit next to me, I opened this book and howled like a wind, shut my eyes tight and snored like a bear and crunched food vehemently like other animals. He got curious, “What’s with Mommy?” Then he fell in love with the book as well. Since he turned eleven months, we have been reading this book every day – it was a great winter companion.
When April came and the last snow melted, we opened the next book from the series. Bear Wants More takes place after Bear wakes up from his long winter nap, and from the cover to the last page, the book is as brilliant green as anyone can wish for spring to be.
The illustrations in both books are made by the artist Jane Chapman. In Bear Snores On it is a repeated play with warm and cold colours to make the contrast between the cozy den and the windy winter forest. The result is splendidly atmospheric. In Bear Wants More her spring is fresh and bright: clover fields, strawberry vales, fish playing in a stream. There is a fair number of interesting details to find in the pictures: look for kitchen utensils animals use or a polka dot scarf that goes from one book to the next, often with the badger. But the most recognizable and adorable part of illustrations made by Chapman are her animals who are just the right mix of furry cuteness and realistic features.
However, as much as meeting the old good animal gang made us smile, I did not find the story of the second book not as exceptional as the first one. The rhythm is not as consistent, while onomatopoeia is limited and less interesting. The plot of the story does not keep young readers on tiptoes, once they greet the big bear without caution, knowing him for the chatty, friendly fellow he is. In the spring story the bear is looking for ways to fill his empty tummy, and other animals help him, while offering their favourite treats. Overall, it is a positive spring story, and we enjoy it, as the spring is bringing its pleasures to our yard.
Aside from these two books, Bear and his friends appear in a lot of others. We have not gone through all the books of the series, but I had a look at a few of them in the library, and in my opinion, none of them live up to the level of the first one. Some will make find home on our book shelves, as I believe that recurring characters in books make for excellent friends, no matter what age you are, and some are alright, taken from the library on occasion. I am planning to get Bear Says Thanks and Bear Stays Up for Christmas as seasonal books, but I have not made a decision about the rest of the series. In any case, one excellent book is something to celebrate, and I am very happy that Bear Snores On is on our shelf for Budster to read and love.