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The Bear Ate Your Sandwich

sarcone-roach_bear ate your sandwichI wasn’t aware of Julia Sarcone-Roach until we reviewed  Subway Story back in 2010. What strikes most immediately about her art is the light. She achieves a luminous quality using opaque paint on paper that many watercolor artists would surely envy. According to the small print, she is using acrylics — a medium that can be made thin and watery. But to my eye, her sense of light comes through best when she’s applying the paint thickly and loosely. You can see this right on the cover: there’s a kind of white halo around the bear’s head and around the sandwich. That halo and the quick almost-scribbly brushwork provides a frisson of energy, making it clear how badly the bear wants to grab that sandwich. (The position of his eyes and ears helps, too!)

Even if this story had been a snoozer, this cover would make me want to look at every page of the book, just for the art. Luckily, the story stands up to the art in every way, with both narrative and plot full of energy. In a direct address text, the unseen narrator is explaining:

“By now I think you know what happened to your sandwich. But you may not know how it happened. So let me tell you.

It all started with the bear.”

We hear and see a bear deep in the woods finding a red pickup truck full of just-picked berries. He hops in to eat them, falls asleep, and soon finds himself in the big city. The story and the pictures are a little too “tall” to be believed, but this is a good storyteller, so we stick with it. Eventually, the bear gets to the park, finds the sandwich on a bench, and the rest is history. End of story? Nope. It turns out we saw the narrator about two thirds of the way through the book: a small black dog who is standing over the remains of the sandwich (just a bit of lettuce) explaining what happened to a bemused little girl.

This is my new favorite among picture books with unreliable narrators. And if there was any doubt that the dog actually ate that sandwich, the endpapers — rows of perfect deli sandwiches up front and their remains at the back — make it clear. On the front endpaper, we see the bear’s nose peeking in from the upper left, while the back endpapers show a black dog’s nose in the lower right.

I could go on and on here. I just love how the palette helps bring clarity to each illustration. Sarcone-Roach uses mostly yellows, blues, and greens; pops of orange and red; deep blue brush strokes for outlines. All of this allows the black bear — and the black dog — to stand out in their surroundings.

So what might the Caldecott committee be thinking about this one? For all my gushing about the art, I wonder whether The Bear Ate Your Sandwich may come across as breezy and humorous next to some of this year’s more serious, clearly distinguished books. I hope not. But I suspect that, if this one has a chance, it’s destined to be a bridesmaid rather than the bride. Funny books are much more likely to be honor books than winners.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Thanks, Lolly!
    This was on a LOT of folks’ early lists and I am going to have to take a second look. It’s been a while since I have seen it.

  2. Susan Dailey says:

    I love the fact that Sarcone-Roach uses multiple vignettes on what appears to be a single spread, especially when the bear explores the town. So many details and such humor to explore! I really like the composition of the page where we only see the dog’s ears and he’s talking to the girl/us. I’m bothered by the fact that sometimes the bear appears skinny and other times very round. (I could be easily convinced there’s a good reason for this.) A small quibble is in the placement of the CIP and dedication on the same spread as the final scene.

  3. Very interesting. I love the art and the illustrator. I didn’t love the story as much, but I read it only twice to myself in the bookstore. I’ll go back again now. Sometimes I like the more serious stories more than the light-hearted one. But our kids at school love the humor.

  4. I agree with you about the light! Both the light and the movement are just fantastic in this one. And the visual humor too.

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