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