cover image I Know a Bear

I Know a Bear

Mariana Ruiz Johnson. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-385-38614-2

First published in France, Argentinian author-artist Johnson’s deceptively casual tale, her U.S. debut, conceals a moral dilemma. A girl with unruly yellow hair sits in bed. She’s drawn in gentle, charcoal-like lines, tinted with pastel shades. She addresses readers: “I know a bear that comes from far away. From a place he calls the Land of the Bears.” Over several spreads, she’s seen accompanying the bear wherever he goes, dressed in her pajamas; the two gather honey and swim in the river. “Naps last for months and months.... The bear tells me that this place is both vast and wondrous.” Another page turn reveals the sour truth: the bear is seen behind the bars of a zoo cage, where the girl visits him. At home, she regards the family’s caged pet bird. “Today,” she says, “I had an idea.” She opens the door and frees the bird. “It felt both vast and wondrous.” It’s a featherlight portrait of a child who feels a call to take action and heeds it. Readers will hope that she can find a way to free the bear. Ages 3–7. (Sept.)