- Age Range: 3 - 8 years
- Grade Level: Preschool - 3
- Lexile Measure: AD1060L (What's this?)
- Series: Books of Wonder
- Hardcover: 48 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins (September 26, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0688098371
- ISBN-13: 978-0688098377
- Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 8.4 x 0.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,146,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Bearskin (Books of Wonder) Hardcover – September 26, 1997
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From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 4. A stouthearted miller's son who was abandoned at birth is raised by a devoted she-bear and fulfills his destiny by marrying the princess. Elegant, bordered paintings mix fairy-tale romance with modern-day wit.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Howard Pyle (1853-1911) was a celebrated artist, author, and teacher -- and a primary figure in the history of children's literature. Not only did he guide and inspire such artistic talents as N. C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, and Jessie Willcox Smith, but he was also a master storyteller in his own right. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Pepper & Salt, and The Wonder Clock are among the many stories and folktales that he wrote and illustrated.
Trina Schart Hyman's Saint George and the Dragon was honored with a Caldecott Medal. She lives in Lyme, New Hampshire.
In Her Own Words...
"I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1939. I spent my growing-up years in the little town of Wyncote, which was just north of the city. Our house was across the road from a lovely and mysterious old farm, so I grew up with horses and cows and geese and chickens, along with hay and manure and all the smells and sounds of farming. In those days there were woods and fields all around our house. We lived in the couritry, but we were only an hour away from the city. Both places seemed exciting and dangerous to me, and full of romance and magic.
"Romance and magic were very important to me. Fairy tales, folktales, and myths were--and still are--my favorite things. I loved to read and draw pictures more than anything, but I hated school and was miserable there. I couldn't concentrate, and I always felt like a dummy, because I didn't understand the rules that everyone else seemed to know. I have to admit that I still feel that way sometimes. I did manage to graduate from high school, though, and then I went to an art school in Philadelphia instead of college. It was so much fun that I actually learned a lot.
"It was there that I found out about the great book illustrators of the early 1900s: Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, and the crazy Pre-Raphaelites in England; and Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, and the serious students of the Brandywine School here in American. Their romantic and magical storytelling pictures inspired me and gave me courage. I was determined to follow in the footsteps of these artists and to carry on their tradition.
"In 1959 I got married and left Philadelphia. I spent the next few years traveling and attending art schools in Boston and in Stockholm, Sweden. I learned about book design and printmiaking, and how to cook and do laundry. in Sweden I learned about the artists Carl Larsson, Jon Bauer, and Sulamith Wulfing, Whose work inspired and influenced me.
"In 1961 I 'Illustrated my very first children's book, for a Swedish publisher. The editor who gave me the job was Astrid Lindgren, the author of the Pippi Longstocking books. Since then, I have illustrated about 150 books, give or take a few. I've tried to make each and every book special and beautiful. I've put a lot of myself my beliefs and interests, my friends and family and the places I've been -- into my pictures. All of the connections that I've figured out in my life are there for everyone to see, in all of my books.
"For the past thirty years I've lived in a big old farmhouse in northwestern New Hampshire. Some part of it always needs fixing -- there's always a room falling off or a roof caving in -- but to me it is home. Mostly there are walls and walls of books that hold it up and keep out the cold. I live here with my partner, jean, who helps me keep it all going, and our two dogs, two cats, and five sheep. jean is a teacher and the director of a little school where kids actually have fun learning.
"My daughter, Katrin, and her husband, Eugene, and their two sons, Michou and Xavi, live in a house that is only a few miles away, over the river and through the woods of Vermont. Michou goes to Jean's school. We are a close family, and we have a lot of fun together. That's it so far."
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A king is traveling through the country when he stops to rest and dine at a mill. For fun, he orders his wise man to read the fortune of the miller's newborn baby, but to his displeasure, the king is told that the infant will one day marry his own unborn daughter. To avoid this insulting fate, the king buys the infant from his father and gives the boy to one of his foresters to dispose of. Unable to go through with harming the boy, the forester instead hides him in a wicker basket and sends him downstream where he's adopted by a great she-bear.
Growing to manhood, the youth finally decides to leave the forest and explore the human world, taking with him a small horn from his foster-mother that she promises will call on help if he ever needs it. Hearing news that a dragon is destroying the land, Bearskin (named so for the bearskin that he wears wrapped around his shoulders) takes it upon himself to kill the beast and save the princess. Not all goes according to plan, as the dishonest steward of the king takes advantage of the situation and takes the dragon heads back to the castle and takes credit for the kill himself. With his reward being the hand of the princess in marriage, Bearskin must call on his cunning and wit if he's to save her and claim his destiny.
The story is full of "borrowings" from other fairytales, Biblical stories, mythology and legends: the prophesy that endangers a child, a huntsman who doesn't do his job, a baby set adrift on a river and raised by a wild animal, a magical gift that endows the hero with power, a dragon that needs slaying, a threefold trial, a sacrificial princess, and a secret test of character in which Bearskin reveals definitive proof that he and not the steward was responsible for the death of the dragon. Essentially, there's everything but the kitchen sink, making "Bearskin" both familiar and muddled.
Illustrator Trina Schart Hyman seems well aware of this, and the patchwork quality of the story is matched in the variety of ethnicities apparent in the story. One can only imagine what Pyle would have thought of all this, and at first glance it may seem to be a strained effort to be politically correct, but the warmth and vibrancy of Hyman's illustrations make this just a passing notion. Therefore, we have an Asiatic hero and an African princess in a European setting, made even odder by the fact that these characters have white biological parents. Of course, it doesn't stand up under close scrutiny, but in this case it's best just to embrace the general craziness of the story and the warped fairytale world in which Hyman sets it.
Human figures are always Hyman's strong point, capturing mannerisms and facial expressions as though they were real people; even posture differs from character to character. Here Bearskin makes a fascinating hero: effeminate and manly at the same time, with good humor and intelligence in his face, as though he finds the whole world to be a rather amusing place. The princess is spritely and lithe, and though she's quite passive in the text, Hyman makes sure that she's no wilting violet.
There are some hilarious illustrations here, such as the "portrait" shot of Bearskin and his adoptive mother proudly looking out at the reader, or the outdoor picnic that Bearskin and the swineherd enjoy as the pigs mill around them. Unfortunately, the dragon looks a little cartoony (a similar thing occurred in Hyman's Saint George and the Dragon), and the human element that isn't accorded to the she-bear doesn't quite meld with the straightforward depictions of the other animals present.
All in all, this is a rather strange story, with even stranger illustrations (in regards to style) but together Pyle's lyrical prose and Hyman's whimsical pictures somehow make it work.
The main selling point is Hyman's vibrant illustrations. An experienced artist whose original forte was portaiture, Hyman makes every character in the storybook a real person, not an idealized view. Moreover, the cast is multi-racial. Overall, a great story book for kids or adults looing for somethign a little different.
My favorite character in this book is the she-bear, because
she is caring and also helpful. I like this book because it reminds me of my life when I was a baby. My mom took care of me just like the she-bear taking care of the little boy.