Top 100 Picture Books #82: A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
I will always, always love Bear and the mouse (small, and gray, and bright-eyed). – Kristi Hazelrigg
Love the language and the characters’ flair for the dramatic. – Jessalynn Gale
Here’s a book with what I like to think of as a slow burn. It came out in 2008 but because my last Picture Book Poll was held in 2009 I feel like not enough time had passed for people to properly put this book into context. Four years after its initial publication (and many a fine sequel later) it makes it on to the list at a fair #82. I reviewed the book myself back in the day and I remember that it was one of my favorites of the year.
I described the plot in this way, “Bear’s pretty good at keeping people away. No one ever visits him, and just in case one does he has a big sign in front that reads, ‘NO visitors allowed’. Just in case. Everything is fine and dandy until one day a mouse ‘small and gray and bright-eyed’ knocks on the door. Bear says in no uncertain terms that he is not keen on visitors. The mouse seems to understand, but when Bear attempts to get out a bowl for himself, there sits the mouse asking for a spot of tea. After throwing out the unwanted guest Bear tries to open his bread drawer next, and there again is the mouse! To Bear’s increasing frustration the mouse is absolutely everywhere, and no amount of stoppering or locking keeps him away. At last, Bear consents to having a bit of tea with the miniscule visitor and soon discovers that the mouse is attentive, easily impressed, and laughs at Bear’s jokes. And when it is time for the mouse to go, Bear finds himself unceremoniously ripping down the ‘NO visitors allowed’ sign. After all, he says, that is a sign for salesmen. Not for friends.”
At 56 pages it’s a longer picture book, that’s for sure. Because it reads aloud so well it’s better to try it with a group of second or third grader who have a better sense of patience. On my blog, Ms. Becker said of the page count, “One of the many reasons Candlewick is so great to work with. The story at around 800 words would have easily fit into 32 pages. But, even though it meant more expense, Candlewick kept upping the page count to make the pacing work.” Worth it.
- Even Daniel Pinkwater recommended it on NPR back in the day.
Said School Library Journal of the book, “Denton’s softly hued watercolor illustrations capture the humorous interplay between the unlikely companions. . . . The lively repetition and superb pacing make this an ideal choice for storytime.”
And said Booklist, “Watercolor, ink and gouache illustrations in a soft color palette show a comfortable, expansive house that seems to emphasize Bear’s need for a friend to fill it up. The characters are highly expressive, making the pictures fun, and the dramatic text will lend itself to reading aloud.”
Horn Book loved it, as is right, with a, “In the presence of a friend, Bear is transformed; both text and art handle the shift in perspective with aplomb. A surefire storytime hit, A Visitor for Bear won’t wear out its welcome.”
Kirkus could hardly disagree either, “Charmingly droll, watercolor, ink and gouache illustrations, excellent pacing and the contrast in the sizes of Bear and mouse are a perfect comedic mixture. Kids will giggle each time the mouse reappears and grin with satisfaction when big and little become friends.”
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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