Joni Sensel, Author, Chris Bivins, Illustrator BEARS BARGE INJoni Sensel

The lesson takes precedence over the telling in this fanciful tale, which decries the effects of urban sprawl. First-time children's book author Sensel opens with young Zack in his house, surrounded by woods and woodland creatures ("There were crickets and cougars and badgers and bears, /opossums and owls and herons and hares"). After more and more houses are built, leaving less and less land for them to live on, the animals take refuge indoors. The humans all move to a gated community—except for Zack, who stays put and lives in harmony with nature ("He lived his life, and they lived theirs"). Sensel's tale is not without wry humor ("Unlike the animals, Zack was quite tame"), but a succession of forced phrases ("And as much as Zack enjoyed chatting with squirrels,/ he'd rather play with boys and girls"; "All that remained was a wee grove of trees./ Beneath them, the animals all tried to squeeze") makes for a strained reading experience. Bivins's (The Perfect Tree) spry, cartoonlike illustrations, with their clean lines, woodsy palette and energetically tilted perspectives, inject a blast of freshness, but ultimately can't hoist this outing above its pedestrian underpinnings. An afterword offers tips on living cheek-by-jowl with wild animals. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)FYI: A portion of the book's proceeds will be donated to the Nature Conservancy.

Reviewed on: 04/02/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
Genre: Children's
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