cover image Backyard Bear

Backyard Bear

Jim Murphy. Scholastic, $15.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-590-44375-3

Borne on Greene's detailed, nocturnal pastel illustrations, this realistic tale rises above its matter-of-fact roots to take on hues of wonder and imminence. One night, a hungry black bear cub wanders innocently into a neighborhood, unaware of its sleeping inhabitants. As he searches for the food he smells, a chain reaction wakes a family and raises a sudden storm of police sirens and piercing lights. The bruin is saved from gunfire when a camera's blinding flash sends him crashing through a fence and out of range. After a fearsome night of hiding in nearby bushes he makes his way home in the dim, pre-dawn stillness. While the book's voice (narrative is in the present tense), layout and, in particular, illustrations call to mind the style and quality of Chris Van Allsburg's work, Murphy's account is distinctively naturalistic and down-to-earth. Its ending cleverly segues into a newspaper-style report on the encroachment of human civilization on wilderness habitats (this story, in fact, is based on an actual event). As a reportorial memoir emotionally enhanced by dramatic illustrations, this book embodies a rare hybrid tone. Ages 5-8. (Feb.)