Saturday, May 14, 2011

Children's Book Review, The Bravest Ever Bear

Children's Book Review written by Susan Stephenson,
Children's Book Review
Children's Book Review, The Bravest Ever Bear

Here's a most unusual children's picture book. The Bravest Ever Bear was written by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Paul Howard, and this re-issue was published by Walker Books (2010). The Walker Books website information recommends it for ages 1-5. I don't agree. I think The Bravest Ever Bear will appeal to 6-10 year-olds as a book to read, and 3-7 as a book to listen to in a read-aloud.

This is not a linear story. It's quirky, slightly silly and made me laugh. What's it about?

It's about a bear. The bravest ever bear. No, three bears. No, four and twenty black bears. Or maybe a penguin. No, no, it's about a sausage. A sausage? That can't be right. I'll start again. This book is about the perfectest ever princess, a wolf, a troll, a dragon and a sausage (again). Oh, I give up. The problem is everyone thinks this is a story about them and is determined to tell it their way. So, if you really want to know who there was and what they did, you'll just have to read these funny and ridiculous stories for yourself!

Clearer now are we? Basically, the Bear, who happens to have quite a good opinion of himself, takes over from the author and tells his story, then other characters muscle their way in too. Kids will really relate to the attitude and feistiness of the story's characters. "Anyway, I'm not marrying a bear." declares the princess and the top-hatted penguin hopefully asks "How about a penguin?" "Push off, Penguin!" she snorts.

Ahlberg is one of my very favourite authors from way back. Two books I love of his are Burglar Bill and The Jolly Postman. He also wrote wonderful poetry. Look out for Please Mrs Butler, a book of his verse centred around school. You can listen to Please Mrs Butler, the poem, at Poetry Archive. There is something so understated about Ahlberg's humour, but it keeps me in a constant ripple of laughter.

The pairing of illustrator Paul Howard with Ahlberg is an inspired choice. Howard has just the same sense of the ridiculous and adds delightful details - for example, when our hero, the Bear, is lifted by a front-end loader so that he can punch the troll on the nose. Illustrations are scattered over the pages, a banner here, some cameos there, a scene from the story interpreted Howard's way over yonder. Kids will love observing every tiny detail, giggling and sharing their finds with friends.

Something else I love about The Bravest Ever Bear is that it will appeal to kids who may think they're too grown up for picture books. It's the sort of book I can see Dads enjoying in a read-aloud, or Year Six boys sneaking peeks at because of the comic-style illustrations and humour. Teachers in early grades who treat Fairy Tales will value the book for its spin on classic tales. And anyone who values storytelling, will want to share it with their children. Libraries will need multiple copies - lots of borrowing ahead!

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook via the Table of Contents.
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