THE FIRST BEAR IN AFRICA!
In this winsome import from France, Ichikawa (Nora's Castle) tells how the very first bear came to Africa. When a family of tourists "from far, far away" visits his African village, Meto is fascinated by the teddy bear the young daughter holds and remarks, "I have never seen this kind of animal before—it is not from our savanna." The girl inadvertently leaves her teddy behind as the family drives off in their jeep; a dramatic illustration shows the boy's shadow cast across an entire spread as he gazes at her forgotten property. The boy becomes determined to return it. The author smoothly incorporates the reactions of the animals that are native to the savanna as the boy carries the strange creature in pursuit of its owner. Joined by a growing menagerie and riding on the back of a giraffe, Meto reaches the visitors just as they are about to board a small plane and hands the stuffed toy to the delighted girl. Picking up on her words ("My bear!"), the enlightened animals spread the word across the savanna that a bear has graced their presence, "The first bear in all of Africa." Drawing on a palette of soft, earth tones, Ichikawa's watercolor paintings bring the terrain, people and wildlife into clear focus and illuminate the story's subtle juxtaposition of two cultures. A light, appealing caper. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)