This sweet book found its way to me just a couple weeks ago. It has been on many lists of top books from 2012 and I finally came across it at the library so I decided to see for myself. Today’s review is Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff.
I was a bit skeptical as I kept hearing about this book. It sounded rather dull. Another color book; another bear book — but critics were so adamant about its loveliness. I did think the baby bear on the cover was quite adorable and the back cover of the book reminded me a lot of the McCloskey classic, Blueberries for Sal, so that was endearing. I was thrilled to read on the jacket flap that creator, Ashley Wolff, always loved the cozy relationship between the mother and baby bear in Blueberries for Sal and that actually was part of the inspiration for this book. My eyes did not deceive in that perceived connection.
The story begins in the dark den where the bears are waking. As light creeps in, Baby Bear is greeted by the rays of the sun and questions, “Who is warming me, Mama?” And so begins a series of questions as Baby Bear discovers a new sensation and inquires about the source. Mama Bear answers each question patiently and Baby Bear discovers a new color with each one. From the yellow of the sun, green of the oak leaves, blue of the jays, and many more; a rainbow of a world is on display.
The simpleness of this story is delightful. It has a poetic feel to it, yet without rhyme. I was pleasantly surprised with each turn of the page how creator Wolff developed the story, keeping a gentle rhythm and introducing a vast world without losing the intimate coziness of the mother and bear relationship. The flow of the images is incredibly stunning. There is a great balance between far away images and close-up ones that maintain interest, give the full picture and yet help focus in on details. I also love that she was not afraid to have several lines of text on some pages and then only one line – 4 words – on others. Incredibly effective at showing the wonder and speechlessness that often occurs with new discoveries. It is also brilliant how many pages give little hints at the color to come. For example, when seeing the green of the tree, there are a couple jays peeking from the branches, showing a hint of blue.
That spread of Baby Bear seeing orange is my absolute favorite of the book. I actually caught my breath and just studied it for a while. This brings up a couple small criticisms I do have, however. I was a little confused at the end of the book why it was called Baby Bear Sees Blue. Perhaps it is for the alliteration, but I found it a bit misleading as I assumed the book was going to celebrate the color blue. Instead it highlighted the full rainbow of color, which is wonderful, I just didn’t expect that.
My only other disappointment was the red page. Baby Bear experiences strawberries, and yet there are only about 6 small ones to be seen. I realize they are tiny things amidst nature, but I was rather hoping the page would burst with red and he would be surrounded. Maybe I love strawberries too much and I would love to be rolling in a field of them; but I just felt that page could have been a tad bit stronger. Update: Ms. Wolff has left a lovely comment here giving some more insight to those 2 decisions that I struggled with. Check out her notes and thought process!
I hate being critical at all, as I really adore this book; but those things bothered me enough to wonder aloud about them. And when you are a strong Caldecott contender, the book is going to be pored over with a fine-toothed comb! I do love this book, and am glad to add it to our own veritable library. Many descriptions of the book detail that it is for 2 and up; but I have to say even my 9 month old loved it. Her eyes opened with wonder with each page turn as well. Perhaps that is a sign that we read too many books though and she is already a book fiend! I think she would give this one a big star too.
This is the first of Ashley Wolff’s creations that I have noticed, but I’ll be looking for more. The illustrations she created with black inked linoleum blocks and then hand colored with watercolor are stunning. I especially love the bears’ expressions. I hope you give this one a try too and love it just as much. Baby Bear even has a facebook page!