________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 18. . . . January 12, 2017


Middle Bear.

Susanna Isern. Illustrated by Manon Gauthier.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2017.
34 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
ISBN 978-1-77138-842-9.

Preschool-kindergarten / Ages 3-5.

Review by Ellen Heaney.

*** /4



Bears are definitely one of the most popular and beloved animals depicted in picture books, and, if the magic number in a story isn’t seven, it is three. So how could Spanish author Isern go wrong here with this tale of three bears? No, not those three bears, but a trio of brothers who are big, little and Middle.

He had been born the second of three brothers.
He was not big, but he was not small either.
Neither strong nor weak, neither tall nor short,
neither a lot nor a little…
He was the middle one.

     Life in the middle is uneventful, and, it seems, equally unrewarding for the main character here. When he realizes just how middling things are for him, carrying his middle sized umbrella, catching a middle sized fish with his middle sized fishing rod, drinking half a glass of water with his middle sized meal, he breaks down. “I DON’T WANT TO BE THE MIDDLE ONE!”

     In a twist that goes against storybook tradition (it’s generally the smallest animal that fights the odds and saves the day), it is Middle Bear who plays the most important part at the moment of crisis. Both bear parents fall ill, and their offspring are sent for willow bark from a tree that grows at the top of the mountain. Only Middle Bear is the right size to jump to the ice crust on the far side of the river which lies between them and the healing tree.

As incredible as it seemed, he had done it.
Because he was the middle one…
His brothers were cheering from the other side of the river.
He had to go on alone, but he did not mind. He walked
to the foot of the huge mountain, the biggest and highest of
all. He took a medium breath and began to climb at middling speed.
With one middle sized step after the other, he reached the top.

     Quebec artist Manon Gauthier has contributed the unusual darkly somber collage illustrations with jagged crayon detail, but the effect is not frightening as it is tempered by the endearing facial expressions of all the bears. Readers can understand that the bears are without names, but it would have been helpful if each of the youngsters had some defining trait (a hat? a different shaped nose?) as, except for on the front cover, Middle Bear and his younger and older siblings often appear as being much the same size.

     Middle Bear is a good addition to the story time shelf, and it’s useful for that discussion about everyone being able to make their own contribution.


Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.

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

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