Saturday, September 6, 2014

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

Rating: 5 stars

Imagine this: It's dinner time after the first day of school.  A day filled with a whole lot of emotions: excitement, fear, happiness, pride, uncertainty, and relief. Ben went to kindergarten at a new school, with his big sister Lorelei, and is proud of himself for having survived the day full of way too many New Things. He is relieved to be home, but his relief comes out in whining and excess energy.  All are hungry and tired, past the point of being polite to each other.

What do I do?  I look for a story that can make them forget theirs for a minute.  A story that their imaginations can get wrapped up in.

I reach for Three Bears in a Boat, written and illustrated by the co-creator of Ladybug Girl, so he's got a few good books under his belt. While I like Ladybug Girl and the subsequent Bumblebee Boy, Soman is on a whole new level with Three Bears in a Boat.  A whole, new, wonderful level.
The bears in the third boat seemed a bit busy.

Three young bears (my kids loved that there was a girl and two boys) play roughly inside and knock over their mama's beautiful blue seashell. It smashes in a hundred tiny pieces all across the floor. They scatter and come up with a plan to fix the situation. They decide to find another seashell, and put it in the place of the broken one.  Their mama will never know.

The trio sail off in their boat, past other bears in boats that provide them and us comic relief but not much assistance in where to find another beautiful blue shell. They finally meet a salty old bear who reckons he can help them. "Just over yonder," he points with his big old paw.

"Over yonder" brings them past a lot of different places--some fun, some not so fun--into places they never knew existed. Finally they arrive at their destination (how they know it is just one of those magical moments in children's books--they just know) and they begin to search for the shell. They open fish mouths, search in trees, look up high cliffs, and peek in caves. But no beautiful blue seashell. They are empty-handed, and far from home.

Their voyage was not without incident.
They get back in the boat, and begin to argue (they are past the point of politeness, too), each blaming the other for breaking the shell. Around them, the waves and the weather begin to mirror their unhappiness, and the sky becomes dark, the water cranky. "BOOM!" Thunder startles them, finally interrupting their anger.  Scared, they huddle together.  "They are all in the same boat," writes Soman. Yes, indeed. Each accepts responsibility for his or her part in the seashell accident as they cling to each other very tightly.

The storm peters out and the sea is calm again. They sail for home. They know what they must do. As they pull their boat up to their own shore, they find another beautiful blue seashell, right near their home. They carry it, sobered by their experience, up to their mama, and apologize for breaking her shell.  They offer the new one to her.

She hugs them up in a big bear hug, and forgives them, grateful that they are home again.  Mama feeds them supper...but they don't get any dessert!

The illustrations are top-notch--beautiful, sweeping pictures of imaginary places that you just want to set sail to right away. My three kids--especially the two school going ones--were as swept away and calmed by the story that had a mama at the end of their journey.  Just like that bear mama, I was so grateful my little cubs were home after their adventure of their first day of kindergarten and second grade!

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