ALBERT THE BEAR

Nick Butterworth, Author . HarperCollins $15.99 (28p) ISBN 978-0-06-053688-6

A bright red "Albert the Bear" tag attached to this book's jacket announces its title; the tag seems to dangle from the pleasingly plump, furry protagonist's ear. Albert could well hold his own at Toys R Us—Butterworth (My Mom Is Excellent) makes this droopy-eyed, pouting polar bear imminently huggable. In this light-as-air story of friendship, Albert's arrival at a toy store elicits concern from the others. " Poor love," says Sally, a hippo decked out in pink tutu and toe shoes. "We must try to cheer him up." So the toys put on a show, starring a mouse who forgets his jokes, a klutzy jack-in-the-box, and Sally with the two left feet: " 'My dancing is not funny,' said Sally. 'It is beautiful and artistic.' The other toys tried not to smile." Throughout their attempts to prompt a smile from him, Albert tries to fit in a word edgewise, to no avail. But Sally's bungling ballet results in the bear's laughter and an explanation that beneath his manufactured demeanor, he really is a happy fellow. This gentle reminder not to judge by appearances slips in unobtrusively, thanks to the buoyant text and illustrations. Silhouetted toys frolic across abundant white space on one page; facing pages display square-shaped scenes within a wide border, its contents spilling out energetically. In one spread, Sally leaps "artistically" out of the panel illustration, joyfully oblivious to her imminent collision with Albert. Cameo appearances by Waldo, Paddington, Raymond Briggs's Snowman and other popular characters add to the book's understated charm. Ages 3-7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 09/22/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
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