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Three Bears in a Boat Hardcover – May 20, 2014
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From School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 1—Breaking a prized blue seashell while their mother is away and knowing they'll be in big trouble, three mischievous bears set out to sea to find a replacement. The plot is simple, yet the bears don't find what they're looking for immediately. They search, fight with one another, and even get caught in the middle of a storm. Their adventures will keep readers interested, making the story a great read-aloud, and the mother bear will leave readers with an ending that will appease parents everywhere. The gorgeous, bright and detailed illustrations are a perfect fit for the text. A first purchase for all.—Brooke Rasche, La Crosse Public Library, WI
While trying to reach a honey pot on the mantelpiece, three young bears accidentally break their mother’s prized blue seashell. Fearful of punishment, they leave their house and set out in a small sailboat to find a replacement shell. An old bear directs them to a distant island, but they find no blue shells there. Sailing off again, the unhappy bears encounter a storm. As they bicker about who is to blame for breaking the shell, the sea grows rougher and more frightening. But when each accepts responsibility, the water suddenly calms, and they find themselves near home again. As they reach the shore, they discover the perfect blue shell. Cocreator and illustrator of the Ladybug Girl series, Soman uses color with finesse in a visually impressive picture book that features striking seascapes and three childlike bear cubs. While the artwork is very effective, the rambling narrative doesn’t always flow well. Still, both parents and children will find plenty to enjoy in this beautifully illustrated offering. Preschool-Grade 2. --Carolyn Phelan
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Top Customer Reviews
It wasn’t their best idea. But Dash, Theo, and Charlie were so sure they’d be able to reach that distant jar of honey their mama put out of grasp on the mantle shelf. Unfortunately in their bid for sweets they accidentally destroy their mother’s lovely blue seashell. The solution? If they can set out across the sea in their little boat and find a replacement seashell, maybe their mother won’t even notice the switch. So away they go, but after asking for advice it seems the only place to find such a shell is on an island shaped like a lumpy hat. As one old sea salt advises them, “Just look the right place.” Thus begins a mini epic, as the bears encounter creatures, storms, and even dark caves in their quest for the near impossible.
When children read picture books, they carry away images that stay with them the rest of their lives. Their lifelong dreams are infused with the illustrations of their youth. There is a reason that the English poet Walter de la Mare once said, “Only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.” It means that if you give them beauty, they’ll take that beauty with them and carry it in their minds for always. I say all this because there is a very particular two-page spread in this book so awe-inspiring and frightening and gorgeous that I think it will be infecting my dreams as much as those of my children. In the midst of a fight, the three little bears do not notice that a storm has grown up around them. They do not notice, I say, until a sudden two-page spread of a mountainous wave, green at its core (why should green be so frightening, I wonder), towers over their tiny boat. The only book I’ve ever seen conjure up similar feelings of helplessness in the wake of a wall of water to this extent would be Ed Young’s devastating wave in Tsunami by Kimiko Kajikawa.
Mind you, Soman’s much more than just a fount of terror. Water is not just his medium of choice (watercolors) but his inspiration. One moment you can see the sea spray pelting the little bears in their boat, the waves rising up around them like living things. The next moment the water is “as smooth and calm as glass” and Soman perfectly captures the wavy mirror-like reflection of the three now thoroughly baffled bears. There are other moments of pure beauty before this, of course. A scene where a pod of whales lift them from the green-blue sea benignly. Another where their little boat sits poised in the white-hot light of the sun, the waves all spit and flecks of white around them. It doesn't disappoint.
Soman isn’t afraid to put in a couple jokes for parent readers as well. I’m a fan of in-jokes. When I consider the lot of parents forced to read the same three picture books over and over to their kiddos I feel all the more grateful when folks like Soman come up with ways to keep things interesting. At one point in this book the three bears start asking fellow bear/boat travelers for help locating a blue shell for their mama. The first boat contains four bears on a raft, the youngest wearing overalls. This is the Huckleberry Finn boat, complete with Duke and King. Well played there. They also see a boat called the “Melville” crammed with bears of all sorts. From the polar bear with tattoos around his face and shoulder to the stern captain, harpoon in hand, this is the Moby Dick boat. So that’s clear as crystal. It is at this point that you might start wondering what a third boat would consist of. What other fictional classics take place on the water? I suppose that there’s Life of Pi, but that’s a bit recent. Or maybe something a little overdone like Noah's Ark. Instead, Soman gets a bit crazy on us.
In the third boat three bears wearing party hats and benign expressions point every which way when confronted with the little bears' query of where to find a blue seashell. Looking at it, I was stumped. Ladies and gentlemen it took me weeks before I could figure this one out and it wasn’t until I had a friend over that all was revealed. She looked at the picture (I was hoping inspiration would strike) when she commented, “Why do they have a checkerboard?” Checkerboard? Checkerboard! I rushed over to my daughter’s easy book collection and there it was. The trick is in the details. You have to take into account the little things, like the banjo, the Chinese lantern, the lollipop, and the toy boat floating on the sea. I’m not going to spoil it for you. I’ll just say that this is from a very famous work for children that many people know, but few would put together with this image. And to David Soman, wow! It takes guts to put something that obscure, and clearly personal, in your own book. He’ll be fielding questions about what this is from for the rest of his natural born days. There may be other in-jokes in this book of course (is the boat the “Ursusula K.” an oblique nod to Ursula K. Le Guin?) but some secrets are meant to stay unknown.
They’ve always said that Soman co-created the Ladybug Girl books with his wife, so there’s no way of knowing where her contributions started and his ended. I knew that his art was great, but how would his writing fare? “Three Bears in a Boat” is an odd little thing in many ways. It’s only 40 pages but feels somehow like a longer, more epic story. The writing itself also gets the job done. It culls down the tale to the most essential elements, which is no easy task when you’re writing an epic adventure on the high seas. And somehow, even with his limited wordplay, Soman ably brings across the personalities of his three little heroes. They don’t say much but what they do say counts.
He’s also pulled a reverse Where the Wild Things Are on us. You remember how at the end of Wild Things” the line about the dinner is “and it was still hot”? Well here the little bears do get a warm supper, but alongside the cozy image of their home at night, the lights all lit, smoke emanating from their chimney while their boat sits on the land and the full moon gleams down is the line “But they didn’t get any dessert.” I love the succinctness of this. In fact, when you sit down and look at the story, the comparisons to Wild Things don't stop there. Max too sails away “for a year and a day” while the three little bears sail “on farther than they had ever gone before”. But while Max had only his own singular wits to rely upon, these three bears have one another, even if it leads to the occasional quarrel.
Even if a child has never set so much as a sandy toe in the waters of a lake, river, or ocean, there’s something compelling in Soman’s voyage by sea. The thrill of setting out on your own with friends/siblings along for company is inherently enticing. Plug in adventure and an escape from parental oversight and you’ve got yourself a snazzy little number. David Soman isn’t afraid to get pretty. His ocean scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a picture book, and his story holds up in the end. If you’re looking for a gift book, a bedtime book, or just something uniquely attractive to the eye, seek ye just three little bears. Charm incarnate.
For ages 3-7.
Summary: Dash, Charlie, and Theo are three little bears who decide to try to sneak some honey. Unfortunately, in the process, they break their mother’s favorite blue shell. Dash decides they should go off in their boat to try to find a replacement. Thus begins their epic journey from what place to another, past boats filled with other bears, to a faraway island that is supposed to have exactly what they’re looking for. It doesn’t, and on the way home they get caught in a terrible storm. They survive and make it home, only to find the shell right outside their house.
Pros: This book has gotten great reviews and even some talk of winning the Caldecott. The pictures are magnificent, particularly the ones on the ocean, and the bears are adorable. It would make a great read-aloud.
Cons: The story never really grabbed me. Others seem to love it, though, so see for yourself.
This book has that wonderful flow to it that makes it a delight to read along with the beautiful illustrations ( I know I already said that ) I would deffinantly recommend this book to anyone! I've read a lot of glowing reviews for books and bought them, only to be super disappointed. So hopefully my review leads you to owning a great book!