Friday, January 31, 2014

A Spiritual Journey

Kadir Nelson

The hero of Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson is lost and trying to find his way home. Young children may read the book literally; older children (and adults) will recognize the larger journey. Baby Bear does not search in order to be reconciled with his mother or father; he is on a journey that tests his mettle. And he must make it alone.

Never do readers feel that Baby Bear is in peril. Mountain Lion, Moose, Ram and Owl number among those who offer assurance and wisdom to Baby Bear along the way, but he must make his way on his own. Thus, this picture book stands apart from others that feature a solo character who's lost.

Kadir Nelson revealed in an interview for Kirkus Reviews that one of the most arresting images in the book--Baby Bear's conversation with Owl--had its seeds in Laura Amy Schlitz's 2008 Newbery acceptance speech (for her Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!). "She described encountering this bear in the forest and the moonlight ‘poured into the clearing like a giant bowl of milk,’" he recalled. "It was such a powerful image, so visceral that I couldn't get it out of my head." He didn't yet have the idea for Baby Bear, but he says, "that's the image that inspired the scene of Baby Bear and the owl in the clearing."

After that encounter with Owl, Baby Bear looks up at the moon, and his face commands the entire two-page spread; readers see the moon reflected back in his eyes. We can see there, in that painting, that Baby Bear knows he will be all right. He is filled with the serenity of quiet confidence. And he does indeed find his way home.

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