________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 4 . . . . October 10, 2008

cover Looking at Bears. (Kids Can Read).

Deborah Hodge. Illustrated by Pat Stephens.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2008.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $5.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55453-250-6 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55453-249-0 (hc.).

Subject Heading:
Bears-Juvenile literature.

Kindergarten-Grade 1 / Ages 5-6.

Review by Shannon Ozirny.

***½ /4


Most bears try to stay away
from people.
People do not always
stay away from bears.

Deborah Hodge and Pat Stephens’Looking at Bears is a roaringly successful information gem for newly independent readers. Rather than cramming her book with an overload of stripped-down ursine facts, Hodge wisely limits her focus to three types of bears that will be familiar to Canadian children: polar bears, black bears and grizzly bears. The result is a clear, stimulating introduction to one of the most popular kinds of Canadian wildlife.

     One of Hodge’s cleverest and subtlest techniques is her use of comparative language.  Recognizing that five and six year olds may have trouble comprehending statistics in meters, centimeters, and kilometers, Hodge uses everyday items to communicate facts. For instance, she explains that Black Bears “can grow to be as long as a bathtub” and “Grizzly bears can run much faster than you can!”

     In addition to introducing children to facts about bears, Hodge and Stephen’s book also serves as a worthwhile primer on information books in general. The careful use of headings, simple captions, and information boxes will help new readers differentiate narrative from information. Although the book is aimed at children who are in the very early stages of reading independently, a very simplified table of contents and index would have been a worthwhile addition. Furthermore, a mention of specific locales (I’m thinking Canada, here) would have been beneficial. Whether editors thought “Rocky Mountains” was too big a decoding challenge or wanted to ensure sales on both sides of the border, Canadian teachers will have to supplement Looking at Bears with looking at a map.

     Canadian content aside, Pat Stephens’ bear illustrations possess a clarity and charm that rivals real photographs. Using a variety of perspective, Stephens is able to capture both the mammoth size and power of these mammals in addition to some incredibly tender den moments between mother and cub. Everything from a mother polar bear’s inky tongue, to a black bear’s wiry whiskers is impressively realistic.

     And so, while newly independent readers may still turn to Little Bear for their fictional ursine fix, teachers and librarians should steer students towards Looking at Bears when they want to learn about the real thing.

Highly Recommended.

Shannon Ozirny has a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from UBC, and works as the Book Camp Coordinator for the Vancouver Public Library. Her favourite fictional bear is James Marshall’s Crotchety Carruthers.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.