Santa Bear's First Christmas.
Illustrated by Maggie Kneen.
Devised and produced by The Templar Company plc, England.
Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 1995. 12pp, board, $17.95.
Toy and movable books.
Preschool - grade 2 / Ages 3 - 7.
Review by A. Edwardsson.
"It was Christmas time, and the young bear cubs had persuaded Big Bear
to dress up as Santa and hand out presents to everyone. He and his animal
helpers had been very busy wrapping and carefully labelling all the
gifts. But someone else had been busy too. . . Santa Bear picked up the
first present, but found that the label was missing. He looked around at
the other gifts. What was this? ALL the labels had disappeared!"
Puzzle and novelty moveable books are universal children's favourites.
Combining both those features with a Christmas story should make for a
guaranteed winner. Unfortunately, clever 3-D artwork in lift-the-flap
format cannot compensate for this books' weak storyline and confusing
The opening pages show a large polar bear dressed in a Santa-like
red robe, with six small bears clustered around his chair. The edges of
this spread have head shots of each cub with their name written above
them, and a wrapped gift below. Despite some token differences (for
example, one wears a bow tie), they lack individuality and all appear to
be the same age. Questions arise: are they supposed to be related? where
are their parents? and, what relation is Big Bear?
We follow Santa Bear through the pages as he opens each wrapped gift
to find out who it's for: "Next he picked up a pink parcel with a big
blue bow. `What can this be?' he wondered." The reader then opens the
gift flap. Inside, beside a pop-up doll, the text reads "It was a
beautiful ballerina doll. He knew who would like it. Do you know too?"
The only way to find out is to flip back to page one. The wrapped package
matches the one beside Belinda's mug shot, and, in the chair scene she's
the bear wearing a tutu.
Further on . . . "Next was a green parcel with a bright yellow
bow. `Splendid,' said Santa. `Just the thing for a certain someone ' [The
reader opens the gift flap.] Inside was a large red kite. Which cub do
you think would like it?" Back to page one again. The gift matches the
one under Dolly. From the group shot we are supposed to be able to deduce
she would enjoy the kite because she's the only cub looking out the
window. There are easier matches, such as a train for Barney, who's
dressed in a conductor's hat and vest, and blowing a whistle.
At last Santa Bear had unwrapped all the parcels, but he
was still rather puzzled about the missing labels, so he sent his animal
helpers to look for them. . . . When they opened the closet doors, what a
big surprise they got. All the skittles fell onto the floor! But there
were no labels to be seen.
Besides the six bowling pins, many other toys appear to fall out.
"Suddenly Santa Bear noticed something very odd on the Christmas
Tree. Can you see what it is?" This is a stumper. Of course, we're
supposed to solve the mystery of the labels here, but the tree that
opens from the centrefold only has one thing on it that might be a label,
since it's a rectangular card. (Other "decorations" include some bells
and candles with small holes at the top, two bows, a Christmas pudding,
some holly leaves, and a few stars.)
When you get to the end of the book, you find two pages of
double-sided, inch-long, colour decorations to punch out and use; since they look like the cards on the tree, and are supposed to represent the labels,
this should be a pretty good hint about what to look for. But they hardly
resemble actual labels. Besides the fact that some are too dark to write
on, none of them resemble the familiar TO: FROM: format that
readers could recognize. So Santa Bear is going to be way ahead of the
audience in solving this mystery.
" `So that's where they are!' said Santa. `but how did they get
there?' Can you help him find out? Look carefully at the pictures in this
book and you will find the answer!" This part is another stretch. On the
edges of most pages are identical borders with parcels and decorations.
Our "clue" is a mouse who hangs by his tail from a decorated garland
(not a tree) holding a glass ornament.
The answer on the last page claims "They were taken by the little
mice who wanted to use them to decorate the Christmas tree!" But since we
don't see the tree until the end of the book, the book hasn't played
fair by giving a reader a chance to guess where the labels were destined
or what they might be for. Also, it's not clear why the tree wasn't
decorated in the first place, since the walls and hearth are festooned.
It was hard enough for this adult to work out that the mice had
taken the labels; the pages before the mystery is solved are cluttered
with unrelated toys and animal helpers who seem to be moving and wrapping
(or are they unwrapping?) parcels. Once I'd seen what the labels looked
like at the end, I was able to go back and recognize them in the paws of
mice in several scenes. For small children however, the mystery is going
to be almost impenetrable without a lot of hints from older readers.
Despite its sturdy movable parts, bright primary colours, and the
endearing hardworking helpers, this book is too difficult and confusing
to "become a Christmas classic" as the back cover predicts.
A. Edwardsson is in charge of the Children's Department at a branch of
the Winnipeg Public Library. She has a Bachelor of Education degree and a
Child Care Worker III certification, and is a member of the Manitoba
branch of the Canadian Authors' Association.
If you would like to comment on this review or anything else in CM please send mail to email@example.com
Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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