Kid Lit Review of “Baby Bear” by Kadir Nelson

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I wasn’t going to review this book, because I didn’t actually get it, and it’s rather a source of embarrassment when one doesn’t get a book designed for children aged 4-7. However, it occurs to me that this too is a legitimate response to reading a book.

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This is the story of a little baby bear who is lost and is trying to find his way home. He stops and asks for help from the animals he encounters, all of whom tell him some version of “trust yourself” and “listen to your heart.” Finally he encounters a salmon who promises to lead the way if the baby bear promises not to eat him. At the end of the book, the salmon has successfully lead the baby bear to a place he recognizes as home.

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Discussion: I was perplexed by the message in this book. It might be appropriate for older readers to learn to trust your heart, but if you a little kid who is actually physically lost, I don’t see how that helps much. I am surprised the other animals didn’t advise Baby Bear about noticing the position of the sun or the stars, or about picking out landmarks in the landscape.

It is conceivable that Nelson is trying to convey a message about the golden rule, e.g., when the salmon does a good turn for the bear in exchange for the bear not eating him. (But then, when the bear gets home, won’t he be eating salmon?)

It is also conceivable that Nelson is writing a preschool version of Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. In that story, the reader is similarly advised about what direction to take in life, especially if one feels lost, but Dr. Seuss’s message is more clearly allegorical:

“On and on you will hike
and I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”

Finally, it could be that, as the jacket advises, this story is to show children that they are never alone, even when they feel lost.

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Evaluation: With any book illustrated by Kadir Nelson, one tends to be overcome by the beauty of his oils. Despite the fact that most of the story takes place at night, the pictures are luminous, taking advantage of the bright gold of the moon, the warm brown of the fauna, and the various shades of green and aqua of the flora and the river. Frankly, I’d get this book for Nelson’s pictures regardless of the message.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2014

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5 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Baby Bear” by Kadir Nelson

  1. diane says:

    The art work is stunning. I loved this one (more than you). My granddaughter loves looking at the pictures.

  2. Trish says:

    I’ve picked this one up several times in the store but the little bits that I’ve read have seemed a bit weird so I’ve always put it back. Maybe we just need to take a trip to the library instead.

  3. Vasilly says:

    Oh my God! I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I didn’t know what to think of this one. Of course, the two of us picked it up because it’s Kadir Nelson.

  4. BermudaOnion says:

    The illustrations are gorgeous so it’s too bad the message isn’t clear.

  5. stacybuckeye says:

    We checked this one out of our library after I saw Diane’s love for it. I, too, found the story confusing, mostly at the end. When Baby Bear got home Gage was expecting parents or family there. He didn’t quite get that it ended, you know? I liked the following your instincts and never being alone aspects. The beauty of this one was the illustrations for sure. Gage, once we read it a few times requested it for awhile. I did use Baby Bear and the other animals to talk about different emotions.

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