________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 22 . . . . June 27, 2008


The Woman Who Married a Bear.

Elizabeth James, reteller. Illustrated by Atanas.
Vancouver, BC: Simply Read Books, 2008.
40 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-894965-49-1.

Subject Headings:
Indians of North America-British Columbia-Pacific Coast-Folklore-Juvenile literature.
Folklore-British Columbia-Pacific Coast-Juvenile literature.
Bears-Folklore-Juvenile literature.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Margaret Snow.

**** /4


As she entered the alpine meadow - spluck - the girl stepped into a big pile of bear dung."Yuck!" she cried. "Bears! Ugly, filthy bears!"

"Shh!" hushed one of her friends. "This is fresh. The bears are nearby. They might hear you."

"Don't be foolish," replied the girl. "Bears are just dumb animals."


The Woman Who Married a Bear is a retold native legend about an adolescent native girl who goes picking blackberries with her friends. She is quite vocal in being critical of bears, and her friends chastise her for this. They stay a little too long, and on their way home the girl's basket spills. Ignoring her friends' pleas to just leave the berries, she sends them ahead while she remains to gather the fruits of her labour. Dusk falls upon her sooner than expected. She is startled by a young native male who insists she spend the night at his village. Upon arrival, she learns that this is the village of the bear people who have specifically sought her out for belittling the bear and they intend to punish her so that she might learn reverence and respect for the creatures. The Chief's nephew, who had been the one to escort her back to the village, intervenes with a request to marry the girl. The chief hesitantly accepts this proposal. The girl is terrified by this change of plans but finally gives in to the situation. Later in the year, she becomes pregnant and dreads the idea of having bear children. The plot thickens when the girl's brothers track their sister and, to avoid a fatal conflict between the two groups, she must flee with her husband into the caves in the snow covered mountains. While in hiding, she delivers twin offspring with human faces and bear bodies but falls in love with them at first sight. Her brothers have not given up their quest to find her. As they approach the cave, she has a choice to make - join her brothers or stay with her family. Her husband makes the choice for her, resulting in his demise. She and her children may now go back to her village where she recognizes the error in her ways and ultimately teaches her people to revere and respect bears. A surprise conclusion achieves the goal of this legend - to teach the value of living in harmony with nature.

internal art

     I was anxious to delve into this book as I am a fan of Simply Read Books and have purchased several works for my school library. Upon first inspection, I marveled at the talent demonstrated in the watercolour illustrations of Bulgarian born Atanas Matsoureff. They are just as beautiful as those in a previous work I had purchased, The Lost Island by Pauline Johnson. In this publication, he once again fully captures the beauty and serenity of native life in British Columbia in times past. His images align perfectly with the text while the blues, greens and browns add to the magical nature transformations of the legend.

     I hadn't previously read anything by the author Elizabeth James and had difficulty finding information about her other than she lives in Vancouver, loves the sea and is a translator. She has done an excellent job of retelling this native legend and embeds a variety of word pictures through the use of figurative language (simile, metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.) making the book a valuable instructional tool to use with children.

     The main character has such a sharp tongue that the reader almost cheers when she gets her just rewards. As the story progresses, the reader's sympathy really goes to the young husband as he lives his life being the best he can be. It takes a jolt, but the main character does learn her lesson and continues to build an understanding as well as an appreciation for nature, family, and staying true to one's beliefs.

     When I used this book in the library as a read aloud, my primary students were spellbound and sat on the edge of their seats for the turning of each page. As I read the climax and then progressed to the two page wordless illustration of the mother and offspring's transformation, cheers exploded in the room. The students loved the supernatural aspect as well as the life lessons on appreciating the environment and the consequences for negative words and going with strangers. Several students commented on the growth in compassion of the main character. The older students loved the richness of vocabulary and figures of speech as we had just talked about similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, alliteration, and they were enamored by how they could be blended together to make word pictures as well. Our grade 6 students were just beginning a unit on exploring native legends so The Woman Who Married a Bear fit in beautifully. I shared the book with my intermediate teachers to be used in a watercolour lesson in art class.

     The Woman Who Married a Bear is definitely a highly recommended book for school libraries as it could be used in a variety of ways to support curriculum learning.

Highly Recommended.

Margaret Snow is a Teacher-Librarian and Early Literacy teacher in a small school located in Southwestern Ontario.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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