Bear with Me

Max Kornell . Penguin Young Readers, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-25257-0
"I had a mom and a dad and my own set of blocks," a redheaded boy reflects at the outset of Kornell's first picture book. "I had everything I needed." And then... no, it's not a new sibling that upsets the apple cart; it's a huge bear named Gary, who, according to the narrator's parents, makes the family "complete." But this is a displacement story with a twist: while Gary does cause all kinds of trouble (requiring constant parental attention, snoring, leaving caps off markers), the bear isn't a blithe or oblivious usurper; in fact, from his sad-sack eyes and hesitant posture, he looks seriously out of place. Could it be that Gary needs a friend? Portraying vulnerability without making one's characters look like whiners or wusses is no easy task, but Kornell succeeds. With a sadly matter-of-fact text and pictures composed of cutout images on painted backgrounds, he sets a sweetly plaintive mood that makes even the expected happy ending ("Maybe surprises are not so bad") quietly gratifying. It's not a flashy debut, but it's a promising one. Ages 3–5. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/28/2011
Release date: 05/01/2011
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