Top positive review
21 people found this helpful
Short term hibernation
on July 6, 2004
Here's a doozy of a question for you. How is it that British picture books have cornered the market on the old scared-of-the-dark theme? I am referring, of course, to not only "The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark" but also the delightful, "Can' You Sleep, Little Bear?" Both British, these books have won wild applause and great heaping helpfuls of praise from professional and (ahem) amateur reviewers alike. In the case of the Waddell and Firth book, "Can't You Sleep, Little Bear" was once referred to by none other than the Sunday Times of London as, "the most perfect children's book ever written or illustrated". High praise that is not generally amiss.
Big Bear and Little Bear live in a somewhat hibernationless state of their own. One day they play all day in the sunlight and at night return to their comfy cave. After tucking Little Bear into bed, Big Bear tells the young 'un to go to sleep, retiring to his own claw footed (and armed) comfy chair to catch up on some reading. Unfortunately, Little Bear cannot fall asleep. He points out that there is a lot of dark around them and that it frightens him. Big Bear accommodates the small fry by providing a little nightlight lantern for the nightstand. But Little Bear is still afraid. With well hidden reluctance, Big Bear puts down his very interesting story and gets Little Bear a bigger light. When that (again) doesn't work he brings in something that the book calls, "the Biggest Lantern of Them All". But STILL Little Bear is afraid. After all, there's no denying that outside the cave the dark is all around. Taking Little Bear out into the nighttime, Big Bear offers the only comfort he can. He presents to Little Bear the moon and all the stars in the sky. Finally convinced that he is safe from the dark, Little Bear falls into a sound slumber and the two bears cuddle up in front of the roaring fire where Big Bear can finally finish his book.
The text has the nice repetitive structure and comforting protagonists that kids will be readily drawn to. Little Bear is never obnoxious in his fears, instead acting very much the toddler as he hops about his bed, unable to find rest. Likewise, there?s a comfort to Big Bear's patient nature. Every time he puts down his book we are told how many pages are left until "the interesting part" (a number that corresponds to the moment when Big and Little Bear step outside their cave into the dark night). He remains a calm sturdy presence, offering comfort and love to the little one. Waddell's text is matched superbly with Barbara Firth?s illustrations too. The first picture in the entire book is a view, from a distance, of the two bears standing in thick white snow, a little ways from their cave. The light in this scene suggests that it just might be late afternoon in a winter month, a beautiful thing to suggest. Once inside the cave, each picture is filled with tiny delightful details. There's a trophy of a bear shot putting with the words, "Ursa Major" underneath. There's an open jar of honey and a photograph of the two bears wearing identical striped shirts. In Little Bear's room the light from the Biggest Lantern of Them All reveals marionettes and handmade pictures. The interactions between the characters are especially touching. When Big Bear leads the little one up the cave's steps in the night, he holds Little Bear's paws as the small creature works at the stairs one at a time. From the shot of Little Bear snuggled against the big one's shoulder to his fearful pointing towards a darkened corner of the cave, this book rightly earns itself the moniker of "charming".
Lots of picture books deal with fears. From the odd, "Go Away, Big Green Monster" to the delightful, "There's a Nightmare in My Closet" these books serve to empower kids to some degree. They give little ones the power to face their fears and deal with them as they see fit. "Can't You Sleep, Little Bear", recognizes the importance of giving toddlers' fears a voice, but it also understands the necessity of strong adults in a child's life. Because the exact nature of the relationship between the two bears is unclear (are they father and son, brothers, or just friends?) this book serves to speak to a variety of different family situations. On top of that, it's sweet as honey on the vine. Cuddle up to it immediately.