A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Our Three Bears

When you share a state with three types of bears – black, brown, and polar – "the three bears" is not a new theme in children’s books. However, it is one that is always ripe for fresh treatment and that’s what we have in a new book, The Three Bears: With Real Photographs! by John Schwieder and Cindy Kumle.
The title says it all: this book tells a story in photographs, taken by Schwieder in Katmai National Park. Many are simply wonderful, such as the cover photo of the three sibling bears standing together, curious and alert.

Photo copyright John Schwieder
The story is slight – basically, we follow the three cubs and sometimes their mother through the activities of a long summer day. But that’s okay because the pictures and information are so interesting. The text is a mix of narration and, in asides set off by smaller text, basic facts about browns bears and their habitat. Kumle does a good job of concisely explaining what is happening in the photos and pointing out details that might be missed -- like the fish that got away while three adult bears argue over it.

I do have one quibble with the book: talking bears. Now, I have no problem with talking animals in fiction. I’ve written a number of talking animal stories myself. But the art in this book is clearly documentary nonfiction and the text should reflect that. Nonetheless, this is a book that will delight children and capture the interest of their parents, as well. These intimate views into the daily lives of some of nature's most awe-inspiring creatures are fascinating. And the cubs -- well, they are as endearing on the page as a real-life passel of puppies. Children will love the scenes of the cubs at play or snuggling up for a nap.

Photo copyright John Schwieder
Although Schwieder, the photographer, has also produced a previous book (ALASKA, America's Wildest State) he didn’t go to Katmai with the intention of writing The Three Bears. He says, “The cover picture...makes people smile and they know there's a story behind it. I originally titled that photograph "Grizzly Triplets" but everyone else called it "the three bears" so that's where the title of the book came from.” His website is

Earlier books on a similar theme include Alaska’s Three Bears by Shelley Gill, illustrated by Shannon Cartwright, published in 1990 by PAWS IV Publishing. This fictional story about a polar bear, brown bear, and black bear finding their home territory in the wilderness is interspersed with factual information about the three species of bears.

The Grizzly Bear Family Book by Michio Hoshino uses photography to follow a mother and two cubs through a year’s cycle of activities. Hoshino, a renowned nature photographer, died in 1996 from a bear attack while filming a documentary about brown bears on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. Japanese by birth, he made Fairbanks, Alaska his home. His book was published in 1994 by North-South Books.

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