A young bear learns that a friend shares your values
Thank You Bear. By Greg Foley. Viking. 32 pp., $15.95, Ages 1–3.
By Janice Harayda
Thank You Bear has so much going for it that you wish it weren’t also an example of a disheartening trend: More and more, publishers are pandering to library story hours at the expense of parents and others who read to children.
This new picture book tells a simple yet highly effective story that’s in some ways reminiscent of “Goldilocks”: A little bear finds a small box he’s sure his friend Mouse will love — until he meets up with other animals, each of whom dismisses it for a different reason. (The elephant thinks it’s too small, the rabbit doesn’t have time to look at it.) Bear is starting to wonder if the box is so great after all when Mouse comes along and loves it as much as he had hoped.
In fewer than 200 words, Greg Foley develops the worthy theme that a friend shares your values. And like his text, his drawings are pared-down but expressive. Because I don’t have toddlers, I took Thank You Bear to church, corralled a two-year-old at coffee hour and read it to him as we sat in side-by-side armchairs. It was Palm Sunday, so the room was mobbed with children eating cookies and making Origami-like crosses from fronds. My young companion paid no attention to the crowd: He was riveted by the story and could easily identify the animals from Foley’s bold strokes.
Then what’s the problem? First, at nearly 10” by 10,” Thank You Bear is too big. I held it against the bodies of a couple of two-year-olds and found that it was as long as either of their arms from shoulder to wrist. How easily could you hold a book a long as your arm? Thank You Bear isn’t a book most toddlers could carry around like the paperback edition of Thomas the Tank Engine that my young friend had with him. And size helps to drive price. Thank You Bear is a $15.95 book that would serve children better if it were at least third smaller and less expensive. Oversized books make sense for authors like Maurice Sendak and Chris Van Allsburg, who do museum-quality work, or Jan Brett, who uses folkloric motifs and borders full of details easier to see in a large format. But the minimalist art of Thank You Bear doesn’t require that scope. On many pages Bear is becalmed in a sea of white space.
The gargantuan 4” x 3” font used for the title on the cover tells you a lot about this book. Few toddlers can read, so they don’t need it, and even bifocal-wearing grandparents don’t require something that big. So why use a blimp-sized font and comparably large pictures throughout the book? Clearly, so the children at the back of a semicircle can see them at story hours.
Publishers often bring out paperback or mini-editions of picture books within a year or so of their publication, and that may happen with Thank You Bear. Until then it’s sad that this book may exceed the financial – or physical – reach of many parents and toddlers who would enjoy it.
Best line/picture: An image that shows Bear wondering if his box is so great after all. Uncertainty is harder to show than stronger feelings, but Foley pulls it off.
Worst line/picture: The cover font. Thank You Bear is also punctuated incorrectly on the cover and title page, though not elsewhere in the book.
Recommended if … you either a) get the book from the library; b) wait for a paperback or mini-edition; or c) or can say truthfully, “I don’t care if the publisher is gouging me. Nothing is too expensive for my brilliant, wonderful, adorable grandchild. Want to see a picture?”
Published: March 2007
Furthermore: In the coming months, I plan to revisit aggressively the issue of overpriced children’s books. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing posts on this subject.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.