Barbara M. Joosse, Author, Renata Liwska, Illustrator , illus. by Renata Liwska. Philomel $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-23884-0

Life is lonely for Nikolai, the only bear in a Russian orphanage. No one can understand him ("His first word was 'Hello.'/ He said it like this: 'Rrroaar ' "), and his natural cub rambunctiousness is frowned upon (albeit gently—the tale makes clear that with "ninety-nine keepers and one hundred orphans," the orphanage is not of the Dickensian model). Joosee (Hot City ) and debut artist Liwska convey that no child is beyond the reach of love, and with the patient, caring ministrations of an America couple who travel to Russia to adopt him, Nikolai finally "feels soft-bearish." The book concludes with the simple but reassuring words, "Together, they go home." Unfortunately, Liwska's meticulously crafted compositions seem mismatched to this tale. Her somber characterizations and palette of muted greys, browns and greens evoke the former Soviet Union too effectively; the pictures are so austere that at times they overshadow the glimmer of hope in Joosse's eloquent prose—and the story's happy outcome. Families who have experienced international adoption may find the pathos of Nikolai's character problematic: there's a big difference between being special and being perceived as malevolent. Ages 3-up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 04/11/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
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