2 out of 4 stars
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How BIG is that Bear? by Dan Ryan is a picture book geared towards young, early readers. The story follows Ben, a young boy whose dad works at a zoo, and Maloo, a bear from the zoo. In the story, we see how differently the two go about everyday activities because of their very different heights.
The story of the two unlikely friends is simple and fun. The combination of hearing the humorous, everyday implications of Maloo’s vast size and viewing the illustrations that accompany the narrative will be a laugh out loud experience for children and parents. However, the main theme of embracing differences could have been highlighted better. The ending, when the benefit of Maloo’s size is supposed to shine, was a missed opportunity. The problem Maloo is able to solve with his height, that Ben could not have solved on his own, is silly and rather unexciting. Given the vast height difference between the two characters, and the relative height of most children that will read this book, the author could have used a more relatable situation to emphasize the main message.
When a narrative is as short as the one found in How BIG is that Bear?, every word should be carefully chosen to enhance or complement the story. However, the rhymes used in this book felt forced and were not always significant. For example, when the phrase ‘take a hike’ is added simply out of necessity to rhyme with ‘bike.’ Similarly, the rhythm of the wording felt unnatural and lacked flow. There were many instances where I stumbled over the words in this book and was unable to understand the author’s attempted meter. Further, there were some awkward wording choices and misplaced commas that made the short narrative appear sloppy.
The illustrations in this book are cute but also generic; nothing about Maloo or Ben really stands out. Additionally, the illustrations consist mostly of negative space where only the two characters are depicted and occasionally simple objects are added. For example, one illustration depicts Maloo’s need to crouch down to get through a doorframe; this illustration consists of the two characters and a doorframe against a white backdrop. The use of the blank background creates a lack of context that may make some of the images difficult for a young mind to decipher without the accompanying words.
It can be difficult to create a picture book with the perfect balance of story, illustrations and writing style. Unfortunately, How BIG is that Bear? misses the mark in a few places and never really finds that perfect balance. The inconsistent rhythm, lacking illustrations and unsatisfying ending lead me to give this book 2 out of 4 stars. However, I do think children may enjoy this as a one-time read as there are some laugh-out-loud moments. Early readers between the ages of 2 and 5 would enjoy this book the most.
How BIG is that Bear?
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