Review of Bear Island

Bear Island
by Matthew Cordell; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Feiwel    48 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-250-31716-2    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-250-82193-5    $10.99

As in his Caldecott Medal–winning Wolf in the Snow (rev. 11/16), Cordell begins his story before the title page, a series of wordless images telling of loss and sadness — a framed picture of a dog, a family portrait, objects being packed away — ending with, “Goodbye, Charlie.” The title page, with its colorful butterfly on a rock against a watery-blue backdrop, foreshadows the story’s theme of transformation. The narrative continues with simple words: “On a lake, there was a house…on that lake, there was an island,” to which protagonist Louise rows, alone. A brown palette mirrors the girl’s sadness, but when butterflies appear on the island, and then a chipmunk and deer, the palette subtly lightens: “Something new and good was happening on the island.” Then “ROOAARR,” a bear appears. It scares Louise, until she recognizes in the creature “a familiar feeling. A familiar sadness.” A circle encloses Louise and the bear and focuses on their shared emotions, then panels continue the narrative, portraying the growing friendship between the two. The youngest of ­listeners will likely accept a bear’s presence on the island, but older readers may, like Louise, eventually wonder if the bear had ever really been there. Life comes full circle for our protagonist, literally, as the final illustration is Cordell’s signature circle again enclosing Louise — with a smile; the island in the background now green; and Milly, her new dog. [See the similarly themed The Boy and the Gorilla, reviewed on page 61.]

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches eighth grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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