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Bear Despair (Stories Without Words) Hardcover – September 4, 2012
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A Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year 2013
★ "A blue bear lies asleep under a tree, clutching a treasured teddy bear. A long-snouted wolf sneaks up, snatches the teddy bear, and runs off with it... There are no tiresome morals about sharing one's belongings or waiting patiently until they are found; Doremus goes straight to the frustration and rage of childhood, laying them out in 32 pages like a brisk session on an analyst's couch." ―STARRED REVIEW, Publishers Weekly
★ "The art is lovely; the crosshatch style and color palette are unique and childlike. Dorémus depicts the animals’ emotions in gorgeous ways, such as the worry in the eyes of Lion when the eggs start hatching or the spread showing Bear under a rain cloud, mourning the loss of his teddy. This charming book is a winner." ―STARRED REVIEW, School Library Journal
"There are no words to describe a great bear's heartbreak when a fox swipes his stuffed teddy in Bear Despair, a captivating pictures-only book for all ages by French illustrator Gaëtan Dorémus. Wordless illustrated books necessarily exact an extra measure of concentration from whose who "read" them - there are no sentences, after all, to explain the images - and this one repays the effort in surprising and gratifying ways."― Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Wall Street Journal
★ "After his teddy bear is stolen, Bear must go on a quest to get it back―and he's not going to let anyone get in his way! The illustrations in this pictorial narrative are both beautiful and hilarious. It will leave you wondering... what would you do to get your beloved bear back?" ―STARRED REVIEW, Booksmith
"...this bear really devours his enemies... No lessons and no morals are attached―just a screaming childhood id. The bear wants his teddy and will do anything to get it!" ―Anita Silvey, The New York Times
"In this wordless tale, the French illustrator uses a storyboard format of large and small encircled scenes on a white page to tell an energetic and emotional tale. [...] Colorful drawings with overlays of swirling lines sweep by at a fast pace as the action grows increasingly frantic, mirroring Bear’s growing anxiety. A lesson to be learned: don’t mess with the teddy. An imaginative and well-designed chase."― Kirkus Reviews
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The really brilliant part of this book is that Dorémus allows us to see the goings on inside of Bear's tummy. In no time at all, Wolf and Lion are joined by a pair of eggs (soon to hatch) gulped down as retribution from a teddy snatching bird. By the time an elephant find his way inside, Bear is quite large, his head balancing atop his mammoth body like a tiny pea. Possibly it is his fearsome size that persuades the Octopus to return his teddy. As soon as Bear is pacified, those who were eaten are now released and Bear returns to his nap.
This is indeed clever, and deftly proves you don't always need to have words to understand the story being told. Just how brilliant are these illustrations? Brilliant enough to have won a spot on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2012.
Lets cut to the chase. This is going to be one of those books that is not going to appeal to every mom/dad/teacher. The story is one where a bear is having a nice rest when a fox steals his teddy bear. Bear gives chase and almost gets his lovey back, but fox tosses it away. A lion finds it and Bear again gives chase. This continues until the end when, of course, the reader is satisfied and bear and toy are reunited.
What's controversial about all this is that the angry bear swallows all the naughty animals that don't give him back his bear. He swallows the fox, and then the lion and the eagle. And like Cronus disgorging his children, the satisfied bear (having his teddy back) releases the other animals from his stomach.
Now there are surely multiple ways of looking at this story. One could see the story as a way to use imagination to empower a toddler. And certainly some small fry would like to have the power to correct injustices, and otherwise get their way.
However, there are probably going to be moms like me who are going to wonder if it's a good idea to expose very little children to any sort of violence and uncontrolled rage. That call, of course, should be made based on the children. Some comprehend abstracts better than others at the toddler to kindergarten age.
I wasn't crazy about Chicken Thief --another book in this series-- so it shouldn't be surprising that I have some hesitations about this one. But in general, I like it better than Béatrice Rodriguez' little book.
The artwork though is not going to work for all children. It consists of a scratchy pen style in very muted and muddy colors. I happened to really like it, but I'm an adult and the toddlers I know happen to prefer bright colors with more contrast. [Oh, you should note that the cover doesn't fairly represent how the rest of the pages look. The teddy bear is never shown in such detail, and neither are the landscapes nor the characters.]
THREE AND HALF STARS with many 'warnings'. This might be one to get from the library first. That way you can assess the artwork and the content to see if it would work with your child(ren).