Review of The Bear and the Moon

The Bear and the Moon
by Matthew Burgess; illus. by Cátia Chien
Preschool, Primary    Chronicle    48 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-4521-7191-3    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4521-8125-7    $11.99

A wide-eyed bear — a furry stand-in for toddlers learning to manage strong emotions, as well as readers of all ages dealing with sorrow — spots a red balloon on a string. The smitten bear plays with it, believing that this “small red moon” is a gift from the sky. When he attempts to hug it, the balloon pops. The bear fails to fix it, grieves the loss, and takes the blame: “Bad bear,” he thinks. When the shimmering moon rises that night, it speaks: “Good bear. Kind bear. Don’t worry, bear.” The bear, absolved of his guilt, relies on memories to sustain him, and he dreams of dancing with his departed balloon friend. Burgess’s unassuming language is endearing (bear wakes from a “snooze” and gives the balloon “a tour of his whereabouts”), and there are sweet moments of humor (“This is the spot where I sit on the pot,” the bear tells the balloon near a waterfall). The pacing is flawless: shortly before it happens, readers anticipate the plot’s tragic turn by spotting bear’s sharp claws as he lovingly grips his friend. Chien’s hazy, atmospheric illustrations, which employ playful perspectives, feature splendid vistas with rich washes of color, though she also knows when to let the bear take the focus in crisp white space. This one packs an emotional punch, and not just for preschoolers: it’s about no less than loss, self-forgiveness, and the ways in which memories can serve to mitigate grief.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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